Lawless (2012), 18, Director: John Hillcoat

John Hillcoat's Lawless, with a screenplay by Nick Cave, is one heck of a 'wangster'* flick; you can smell the stench of illegal booze in 1930s Virginia as brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) run a moonshine business. Forrest and Howard are also fans of a bit of the old ultra-violence when needed, with Hardy playing the protective Mama Bear for the family/knuckle duster lover of a brother. Communicating via grunts and sighs, Hardy again nails it; Forrest is a bulk of a man with little words, but his expressions and posture say it all. Plus he's not afraid to wear a cardigan or two. To 'borrow' a term lovingly from Matthew Turner of and Beth Squires of, the HARDIGAN is born.
Big trouble comes a knocking at the Bondurant brothers door in the form of Special Agent Charlie Rakes, or Guy Pearce as we most commonly know him. Pearce is a marvellous pantomime villain; prissy, depraved, brutal, and playing the part with absolute glee. He wants a cut in the moonshine profits, but Forrest refuses to play ball. Rakes then plots to take the brothers down, setting his sights first on LaBeouf's Jack who gets one hell of a beating. Much has been said about the brutal violence in Lawless; true, it's not nice, but you'll see worse in Dredd or a shoot 'em up. What makes you flinch here is the violence is so realistic; Forrest's throat is cut and it's a nasty piece of handiwork, bullets make people writhe around in agony and you can feel every punch in the grim beatings.
Usually LaBeouf is a little mehhhhhh in his movies, but Lawless shows promise for the actor; it'll be interesting to see how he fares in Lars von Trier's graphic Nymphomaniac. Jack goes from being a wimp, to a strong leader and wearer of smart threads. It's his encounters with love interest Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) - who knew the build up to washing feet in a baptist church could have so much sexual tension - and Gary Oldman's sadly underused mobster Floyd Banner which engage the most, and LaBeouf does a fine job of carrying the movie on his own back.
However, Lawless is missing that special something - that essential ingredient that makes a good movie into a GREAT movie. It shows promise, but it just doesn't quite get there. There's no fault in the performances - certainly Guy Pearce should deserve a best supporting actor nod - yet there's something lacking; that big pay-off, whether it's more action, or a more satisfying ending. It's a true story, so some things can't be changed, but the answer could be Floyd Banner. With more screen time for Floyd, it may just have been more powerful. It would have been great to watch him battle against Rakes, for example. Perhaps Lawless needs a little bit of the moonshine itself.
(The soundtrack's bloody brilliant though)
* 'wangster' - half gangster, half western movie. It sounds a bit rude.
3/5 hardigans, perfect for autumn and mainly autumnal colours