Lawless is the second John Hillcoat / Nick Cave feature film collaboration -- the first being the horribly overlooked but masterful The Proposition from 2005. I've enjoyed both immensely. Director Hillcoat has an impressive eye for detail (not unlike his countryman Peter Weir's period work -- Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli) and an implacable taste for violence. Cave, a fellow Aussie who is better known for his work with the rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, weaves a compelling tale that doesn't rely too heavily on narrative conventions but when it does the film is weakened a bit.
Lawless is the 'true" story of the Bondurant brothers of Franklin County, Virginia, who during Prohibition ran a large bootlegging business in the backwoods that drew the attention of conniving, greedy and sadistic lawmen. Led by the stalwart and seemingly invincible Forrest (Tom Hardy), the brothers try to grow their enterprise while takiing on an effete and heartless enforcer out of Chicago named Rakes (another Aussie Guy Pearce), which leads to a bloody shootout at a covered bridge in the final reel.
The youngest of the Bondruant brood, Jack (Shia LaBeouf, a personal favorite of mine), is itching to get a piece of both the bootlegging action and the local Mennonite preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska). Despite warnings from Forrest and eldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke, yet another Aussie), Jack disastrously tumbles into both, assisted by the gimpy young moonshiner Cricket (Dane Dehaan of Chronicle). The cast, which also includes Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain, is first rate and their dedication to the film and Hillcoat's vision is undeniable and all over the screen.
Lawless is weakened a bit by conventional cinematic devices -- innocence must be sacrificed, carnality damned and evil must come with dyed hair and French cuffs -- but these are not fatal flaws. Bloody, terrifically violent but enjoyable.