A solid piece of film making that marks its director's most commercial outing to date, Lawless may not wind up a major awards contender come year's end, but it does provide an engaging ride through bootlegging in the Prohibition Era. Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) with a nice sense of narrative momentum, this is a sturdy, entertaining, nicely acted film, even though it represents a less original, independent point of view than his previous films. Gone is the harsh poetic tone, replaced by lots of talk and lots of shooting.
Based on the, allegedly, true story of the Bondurant brothers, the film charts their run-ins with a dandified new officer (an eerily commanding Guy Pearce) as they attempt to maintain their bootlegging enterprise in Virginia. The plot is straightforward, yet right from the outset, Hillcoat and his collaborators create a palpable atmosphere and a sense of pacing that keeps things moving, without ever rushing. It may not really dwell on character the way Hillcoat's previous films did, but the characters come across nicely. Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy deliver nice work as the film's leads, with LaBeouf proving surprisingly charismatic. The characters may not be strongly fleshed out, but the actors at least inhabit them comfortably. The scene-stealer is easily Pearce, in a broadly played yet still scary-as-hell role. Less successful, through no fault of their own, are the film's two female roles, played by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska. They're mostly used as objects of potential romantic affection for the men, and little else, although Chastain does get one nice, complicated scene toward the end. From a technical standpoint, everything looks and sounds nice, save for a moment or two where Nick Cave's score comes in far too loud. Not the sort of film that will truly amaze you, but it will hold your attention and remain engaging, even when the epilogue hangs on just a hair too long.