Hating Shia LaBeouf seems to be a spectator sport these days, but it’s not entirely fair to the busy young actor. LaBeouf doesn’t necessarily elevate “Lawless,” an aggressive new gangster film now out on Blu-ray and DVD. The “Transformers” star simply finds another role tailored to his youthful demeanor, one flecked by darker, more intriguing impulses.
LaBeouf’s character is the youngest of three moonshine moving brothers, a tale based on a real-life trio of Virginia outlaws.
LaBeouf plays Jack, the wimpiest member of the three Bondurant bunch. Older brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) handle the messier side of the business while Jack keeps clear of the melee. The money flows as smoothly as the booze until a Chicago copper (Guy Pearce) arrives in town to wipe out every moonshine peddler in the region.
Now, Jack must push past his cowardly nature to ensure the Bondurant clan survives its gravest threat to date.
“Lawless,” adapted from the book “The Wettest County in the World” based on author Matt Bondurant’s family tree, nails the Prohibition America’s moral knuckle curves. Everyone exists here beneath a thin layer of dust, the period details exhaustive and true.
Poor Clarke should sue the production for a near total lack of support, but between Hardy’s grunting antihero and LaBeouf’s sweet story arc there’s barely elbow room for sibling no. 3. Watching a near mute Hardy get seduced by the film’s ambiguous beauty (Jessica Chastain) is worth a certain investment of time and resources.
Pearce is a hoot, proving once more he’s getting more interesting with every atypical film assignment, and a smarter film would give co-star Gary Oldman far more lines. Still, “Lawless” erupts with ferociously conceived violence to distract us from the thinness of the end game.
The Blu-ray extras include “Lawless: The True Story of the Wettest County in the World,” a feature letting the cast as well as author Matt Bondurant recall the actual headlines which partially inspired the project.
“Suddenly there was more demand for the liquor they were producing,” Bondurant says. “This area became the new gold rush.”
“Franklin County, Va. Then and Now” lets historians dig deeper into the moonshine period, detailing how the alcohol production meshed tradition with tried and true farming principles.
Moonshine sales also helped the south bounce back from the lingering economic effects of the Civil War.
Other extras include commentary track featuring director John Hillcoat and Matt Bondurant, deleted scenes and a music video featuring modern day “outlaw” Willie Nelson singing “Midnight Run.”