Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia Lebeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman
When I watch a film and see the message “based on true events”, my whole viewing experience thereafter is affected by the knowledge that I’m watching a ‘true story’. This varies depending on the genre, for instance, if I were to watch a horror film with this warning I would begin to question the importance of the word ‘based’, how much has the production team distorted the story for the purposes of entertainment. In the case of a film like ‘Lawless’, one which tells the story of a significant person or event, I am immediately aware of an air of authority. I know that I’m going to be treated to a genuine and gripping recollection of events.
Tom Hardy is faultless as the dominant and fearsome leader of the Bondurant family. Not only does he play the part of the invincible hero impeccably, but he looks the part too. Hardy delivers a truly believable, gritty performance, combined with moments of vulnerability, revealing a human side to this godly being. Jessica Chastain portrays Forrest’s love interest, the fragile Maggie, as an interesting contrast to the masculine undertones of the film. In real life, Shia LeBeouf is at present, a bit of an odd character. But in ‘Lawless’ he is actually rather impressive in his depiction of both the snivelling younger brother and the transformed, confident man seeking revenge. Indeed Lebeouf’s character, Jack, becomes something of a secondary hero. Perhaps his consumption of copious amounts of moonshine on the set was actually a good move for LeBeouf? The villain in this all-star cast is the talented Guy Pearce. Pearce provides the story with the perfect villain, a cruel man capable of pure evil. Detestable in both nature and appearance, Charlie Rakes will have you screaming at the screen in disgust, clamouring for his comeuppance.
From the start, there is an aura of power and immortality created surrounding Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy). This is presented throughout as a strong contrast to the weak and cowardly younger Bondurant brother, Jack (LeBeouf), who is regularly undermined within the family. This sets up nicely, if not a little predictably, the surprise hero element to the tale. As polar opposite to both of these characters, no one embodies the violent, dangerous spirit of the film more than Howard (Jason Clarke), the alcoholic, crazy, hothead older Bondurant brother. You would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Lawless’ would be an all-out, guns blazing, action film, but there are plenty of delicate moments to balance the fight scenes and prominent theme of masculinity and violence. Set during the prohibition era in America, deep in Virginia, Forrest Bondurant is a thing of legends after surviving the war, and is thus elevated to the role of superior, to put it simply, he runs the town. Amongst this social hierarchy, we are introduced to Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and his gang, as well as the oppressive, ruthless Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Pearce). The backdrop of aggressive conflict and power struggles throughout, instill a tense and ominous tone to the film; all the way through you’re sat there thinking “something is going to go really wrong here”.
‘Lawless’ is undeniably a modern classic of the Western-style, gunslinging, action genre. A film full of graphic violence from beginning to end, and all the better for it! Forrest Bondurant should go down as a legendary hero in the world of film, just as much as he is an immortal legend throughout Franklin County, Virginia. The true story of corruption and the law is told exquisitely by director John Hillcoat and must be considered as one of the best crime/action movies of the last decade at the very least.