Lawless (2012) – Bootleg Mumblecore

Synopsis: Chronicles the efforts of three bootlegging brothers in prohibition era Franklin, Virgina to evade the law, make some money and stay alive under threat from crooked D.A. Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce)

My Take

Nick Cave is a talented screenwriter. The Proposition was a great piece of moody Ozzy period drama. Lawless is a similarly great piece  of writing with well rounded characters who only speak when they have something worth while to say. The problem is you can’t understand half of what they say.


An abridged version of Lawless would go something like this:

Shia LeBeouf: I am a young buck with great ideas but no-one wants to listen to me

Tom Hardy: Mumble mumble mumble you’re not ready mumble mumble

Jessica Chastain: I have mumble history mumble

Shia LeBeouf: Someone take me seriously!!


Tom Hardy: Mumble mumble mumble did I walk here?


Gary Oldman: Blink and you’ll miss me

Tom Hardy: Mumble….

In fairness that gives the impression that I didn’t like the film, which is not true. I was genuinely entertained from start to finish and the ensemble cast all do great work. I can see why Hardy was directed to be mumbly. His character is the archetypical man’s man. No emotions. In that respect he’s a brilliant piece of casting. Still carrying all of the mass he accumulated from his role as Bane he is a big lump of intimidating muscle. The issue is he’s portraying it through a rural Virginia accent which it never feels like he is entirely comfortable doing. But like Batman: TDKR once you tune your ear to it the mumbling becomes less problematic.

The whole story is based on actual characters, from a book on the bootlegging efforts of the Bondurant brothers written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of Jack Bondurant (Shia LeBeouf). This adds a lot of credibility to the events. And is much better than the popular “inspired by real events” which is a phrase that means absolutely dick and severely gets on my moobs.

Shia LeBeouf proves that when under the right direction he is a half decent actor. His best piece of advice must be stay the hell away from Michael Bay. I am a big fan of Mia Wasikowska but it feels like her talent is wasted a little as the LeBeouf love interest. I can’t help but feel the role could have been filled by a less well known face given a chance to shine. Jessica Chastain continues to do be consistently great in everything I see her in at the moment. That’s two movies in 24 hours (the other being Zero Dark Thirty) where she has played strong female leads. I know a lot of people get the “next Meryl Streep” label but she’s got to be a good shout to fill it. Jason Clarke crazies his way through as the dumb fisty brother. What he lacks in dialogue though he makes up for in a range of facial expressions. Often he is worth watching in the background when stuff is going on in the foreground.

It’s Guy Pierce who steals the show though chewing the scenery as the crooked DA Charlie Rakes. Dude also has the worrrrrrrrst centre parting since Nick Carter. You don’t often see him hamming it up. I want to see it more often.

Cave and Hillcoat aren’t afraid to pull their punches with the gritty stuff. One of the highlights is an impromptu castration followed by the product being sent giftwrapped to one of their enemies. An 18 rating feels a little harsh though given what normally gets through a 15. It feels like the movie Gangster Squad should have aimed for tonally. It also doesn’t feel a million miles away from the other big prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire. Most of that is down to the attention to detail and grit.

Finally I was a little surprised by Gary Oldman’s presence in that he is in two scenes, and one of those is purely exposition. Like Mia Wasikowsa it feels like a little waste of talent. His stock hasn’t been as high as it is now for some time following Tinker Tailor and the Batman franchise so I can only assume this was a similar gift of his time as his cameo for Tony Scott in True Romance.

Conclusion: All in all after the first 5 minutes of tuning my ear and sounding like a geriatric going “what did he say?” it was an engaging story serviced by a great ensemble cast and Shia LeBeouf.

Verdict: Recommend


Taglines: When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes

Director: John Hillcoat – Close buddy of screenwriter Nick Cave of Bad Seeds fame, also directed previous Nick Cave effort The Proposition. Other noteworthy movie was adaptation of post-apocolypse Cormack McCarthy favourite The Road.

Writer: Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds. Has a strength for writing backwater period pieces where the men are manly and the women are strong.

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf, Guy Pierce , Mia Wasikowska (eat that Microsoft spell check) and Gary Oldman


  • The movie is based on actual events, as explained in the book “The Wettest County in the World” (2008) written by Matt Bondurant. Matt Bondurant is the grandson of Jack Bondurant, the character played by Shia LaBeouf in the film.

Streaming on BlinkBox


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