Based on Matt Bondurant’s “The Wettest County in the World,” Lawless tells the tale of the infamous bootleggin’ Bondurant Brothers – prohibition-era heroes that fought authorities and rival factions alike to continue peddling their alcoholic moonshine to neighboring regions. Focusing explicitly on a rather precarious run-in with a corrupt, pompous Chicago deputy (Guy Pearce), the trio of brothers bands together amid countless hardships to maintain their good name and keep living the American Dream. Although this sounds like the stuff legends are made of, Lawless is, unfortunately, far from legendary as a few trip-ups keep it from being a wholly compelling piece of storytelling.
Partially falling victim to the true story aspect of it all, Hillcoat’s latest suffers from an incomprehensibly sparse narrative, moreover one that relies a bit too heavily on a wonderfully realized late-Twenties aesthetic and not much else. Outside of the brutal punch-for-punch that ensues between the Bondurants and Deputy Rakes and his lackeys, there’s not much of a story to be told outside of something we’ve seen from similar entries into the ultraviolent gangster subgenre. This in mind, the striking and warranted violence successfully emulates the tumultuous exchanges of the era quite well in spite of how periodically scatterbrained the proceedings are, and above all, there’s nothing like Tom Hardy going to town on a guy’s jaw with a pair of brass knuckles.
Putting aside the archetypal central characters, Lawless‘ beautiful locales, set pieces and costume design do wonders for our involvement’s sake, and at the end of the day, it’s easy to appreciate the film’s primary source of conflict more than anything else. Sure, people will gravitate toward the budding romances that blossom between individuals and so forth, but in the end, it’s all fluff that caters to staying true to the film’s source material. Thanks to some pretty stellar production values and solid performances though, Lawless at least has two sturdy legs to stand on.