Lawless Review

Shia LaBeouf’s balls.

If you’ve seen most any of this young actors’ other films, or even an infamous Sigur Ros video he’s the star of, you may’ve found yourself exclaiming something rather similar.

But Lawless doesn’t drop into this category.

The new film from director John Hillcoat is based on the real life Bondurant brothers, whose legend has been brewing since prohibition era America.

Jack Bondurant was never like his elder siblings.

When tending to their family farm in Virginia, he never could bring himself to kill any of the animals when their time came, relying on his older brothers to get their hands bloody instead.

When one of your older brother’s is Forrest Bondurant, it’s understandable.

The sole survivor of a freak yachting accident, or some other military manoeuvre I can’t quite remember that wiped out his entire army regiment, Forrest then went on to kick the killer flu epidemic of the early 20th century.

While all around him were dropping like flies, and he was expected to do the same, Forrest pulled through against the odds once more.

As time passed, tales of his invincibility became legend; until everyone in Virginia thinks this Bondurant boy can’t be killed.

Even Forrest himself.

And he uses his name to good effect, setting up a mighty profitable prohibition racket that he rules with an iron fist.

Now his younger brother Jack has come of age, he wants into Forrest’s family trade; even though he seems anything but cut out for this kind of life.

Reluctantly, Forrest initiates Jack into the bootlegging business just before some neighbouring police authority decides to put the squeeze on Forrest’s alcoholic action.

As seems to have been the style back in the day, the police wanted their taste of any of this prohibition profit.

Predictably, Forrest refuses their less than appealing offer and sets in motion a war of wills between these two tribes of gangsters.

Faced with a baptism of fire, will Jack be able to live up to the glorious Bondurant legend his older brother’s built up?

Adapted for the big screen by Australian maverick Nick Cave, Lawless is an uncompromising tale about the strength of men to live life on their terms.

And there aren’t many stronger alpha male types knocking around Hollywood right now than Tom Hardy.

Even when wrapped up in a cardigan, Hardy still looks bloody enormous as a result of his previous roles in Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises.

But after Nolan’s lamentable characterisation of Bane, the rising star amongst British actors reminds everyone just how talented he is when his director isn’t disguising his face behind a mask and an incomprehensible accent.

Backing up Hardy’s broadsword style is the rapier like presence of Guy Pearce, another stellar actor born in these shores.

Pearce reels off another in his list of memorable performance as the sadistic and corrupt special agent Charlie Rakes. In fact, he’s so menacing in this role that a streak of hair seems to have gone into hiding.

Even Gary Oldman pops up in an all too minor cameo role as suave gangster Floyd Banner, but it’s Shia LaBeouf’s character of Jack Bondurant whose journey you take in lawless.

And you know what, he’s not balls.

Sure, I took a little shameful joy from seeing a particularly savage beating meted out to him at one point during Lawless.

As would any kid who grew up with Transformers and Indiana Jones films.

But it seems like Shia’s been doing a lot of growing up himself, most notably in the scripts he’s choosing to take now.

His character of Jack is the emotional centre of Lawless; it’s his journey the audience takes as he goes from boy to man in and, in the company of such accomplished actors, he never once feels out of place.

Lawless is a gritty and gripping tale of the iron underbelly of speakeasy era America whose early, real-life gangsters would put a lot of these modern mafia yarns to shame.

As for Shia LaBeouf’s balls, you’ll just have to wait for his role in Lars Von Trier’s already controversial Nymphomaniac to say that out about the young actor again.

Because it doesn’t apply to his acting any more.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

September 2012