Whether you liked his performance in "Dark Knight Rises" or not, Tom Hardy is a force and he proves it with a guttural performance as Forrest Bondurant that anchors John Hilltop's new film "Lawless."
Hardy grunts and punches his way through the film, which is based on a true story of the Bondurants, a group of brothers who made a living producing moonshine in prohibition-era Franklin County, Va.
He's assisted by a dream ensemble, featuring Guy Pierce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain (an actress I'd swear by after "Tree of Life"), Mia Wasikowska and Shia LaBeouf, who I've never liked until this performance.
Above, Shia LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska are shown in a scene from “Lawless.” At right, Tom Hardy is shown another scene from the film, which is a true story of the Bondurants, a group of brothers who made a living producing moonshine in prohibition-era Franklin County, Va.
It turns out that LaBeouf is much better as a weak-stomached wannabe than a cool hero ("Transformers") or a hot-headed young rebel ("Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"). LaBeouf plays Jack Bondurant, Forrest's younger brother.
Apparently, Pierce accepted the role as the villain of the film on the condition that he could make it "more memorable" and he does so with an over-the-top performance as the Chicago cop who comes to town determined to show these "hick" Bondurant boys who's boss. Pierce plays the character as a cultured, feminine and heartless alternative to the brutish-but-soulful Bondurants.
Oldman is allowed to have more fun here as a local mob boss than he was ever allowed to have as the well-meaning commissioner in the "Dark Knight" trilogy, but he should've been given more screen time. He, like Pierce, steals every scene he's in.
The film is violent in an '80s kind of way - from the beginning, it aims to make you squirm and only gets worse as it goes - but it's shot so well that you get used to too much being OK and you, ultimately, for no real moral reason, just want the good-bad guys, the criminals who are like family to us, to cause more harm than the bad-bad guys, the outsider cops infringing upon what seemed to be a perfectly reasonable method of making a living.
I feel almost unqualified to write this review because I've never seen any other film by Hillcoat - even though he directed the film version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," one of my favorite books - but I'll definitely seek out more of his work. He's even been recommended by the great-but-divisive Terrence Malick, who gave Hillcoat the rights to name the film "Lawless," a title that Malick had already reserved for a project that he's working on. The original title was "The Wettest County in the World," which was the name of the book on which the film was based.
The book, which I will definitely seek out, was written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of the real-life Jack Bondurant. Matt wrote the story after unearthing old news articles about his family's moonshine business. Judging by how little he, by his own admission, had to go on for his story, this "true story" is about as true as the lot of them. But after seeing the film, I really don't care how much is fiction and how much is fact, I'm just glad they made it.