There's a surprise in John Hillcoat's period piece Lawless: Shia LaBeouf. Starring as Jack, the youngest of the three Bondurant brothers who run moonshine in a small town in Virginia during Prohibition, LaBeouf steals the show, one scene at a time. The film is based on the true story as chronicled in the 2008 book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the real Jack's grandson. Howard (played by Jason Clarke) is the oldest brother and a not-so-stable World War I survivor; Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the middle brother and ringleader. Jack (LaBeouf) acts as narrator for the story, which, like Jack, is alternately bloody and tender. The brothers are outlaws, yes, but when they come up against a corrupt deputy (a deliciously dandified Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes), they become heroes. And none is more heroic than LaBeouf's Jack, who aspires to more than the big-fish-in-a-little-pond life of crime his brothers have carved out for themselves.
The lines between good and bad are blurred early on in Lawless, becoming more like bad and worst. The brothers, amoral as they are, manage to break the law and stay within their own moral code. Not so for Deputy Rakes, who is the real villain in the piece.
Hillcoat keeps things looking like the Virginia backwoods through an appropriately dingy brown and gray palette, splattered from time to time with a bit of blood. And screenwriter Nick Cave wisely employes a less-is-more approach to dialogue.
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Special features on the DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy version include commentary by author Matt Bondurant and director John Hillcoat, deleted scenes, The True Story of The Wettest County in the World featurette, Franklin County, VA: then and Now; The Story of the Bondurant Family; and a "Midnight Run" music video by Willie Nelson.