Film review: Lawless (18)

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BASED on a true story, Lawless knocks back a drink with three brothers who become kings of their close-knit community by running moonshine across the state line.

Set in early 1930s Virginia and adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County In The World, Nick Cave’s script corrals its fair share of rootin’ tootin’ cliches to a fine bluegrass-tinged soundtrack.

Yet, for its dramatic simplicity, John Hillcoat’s film packs a hefty punch, exploring the bonds of trust that are tested to their limit when the bootleggers are pummelled senseless by the long arm of the law.

In the mountains of Franklin County, local cops turn a blind eye to the illegal activities of Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) and his siblings Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf).

The brothers run a successful bar and eke out a comfortable living by trading moonshine, made at secret distilleries maintained by Jack’s disabled pal, Cricket (Dane DeHaan). However, the siblings’ business empire threatens to crumble to its foundations when sadistic Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago on a mission to shut down the distilleries at the behest of District Attorney Mason Wardell (Tim Tolin).

The subsequent, blood-spattered feud between the cop and a defiant Forrest underpins Hillcoat’s gritty Prohibition-era thriller. Lawless pulls few punches in its depiction of the senseless violence meted out by the two sides.

Hardy delivers a brooding central performance, maintaining his stoic hard man image around Chastain’s emotionally battered love interest.

However, it’s Pearce who scorches every mud- and blood-smeared frame as a obsessive-compulsive bully who hides behind his police badge.

Rating: * * * *