Almost as soon as movies could talk, they were making films about the gangsters who came to prominence by supplying liquor to thirsty Americans who didn't believe in the nanny-state laws against alcohol known as Prohibition.
Lawless, however, is more of a post-Prohibition tale. Though it is set in the period after the end of the ban on alcohol, it deals with the same impulse -- to sell illegal liquor and thwart government regulations. In this case, those doing the selling are moonshine makers and runners in 1930s' Virginia.
Based on a true story, Lawless focuses on the Bondurant brothers: Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf). They own legitimate businesses in Franklin County, Tenn., but are also among the best-known moonshine makers/distributors. The older brothers have a bit of a mythos surrounding their seeming indestructibility, having survived the flu epidemic and World War I.
But things get hinky when a federal agent from Chicago named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town to shut them down. Actually, he first offers his terms for letting them stay open; when they refuse to pay protection, he starts to play rough.
Rough being the key term there. Rakes is a fancy-pants sadist with a severe center part, nearly invisible eyebrows and a lip-smacking Midwestern accent that makes the characters in "Fargo" sound like Bugs Bunny. He terrorizes the Bondurants every way he can -- but despite pounding the crap out of Jack, he merely riles them up.
This review continues on my website.