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Film Talk: Looking Back – Booze, bandits and brotherhood in Lawless

Ten years old? You're having a giraffe mate!

Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as Forrest and Jack Bondurant in Lawless
Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as Forrest and Jack Bondurant in Lawless

Alas folks, no – I wish that I were. It is indeed fact and not fiction that this belter of a bootlegging drama has already reached the vintage age at which we can describe it as a classic. Yet, it stands as a sublime one, of no mistaking...

Directed by John Hillcoat, 2012's Lawless saw Brit behemoths Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman take to the silver screen with Shia LaBoeuf, Jessica Chastain, and Guy Pearce to tell the tale of a brotherhood of booze bandits and the price of prohibition.

Based on the historical novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, Lawless treats us to the violent story of three brothers – Bondurant's grandfather and great uncles – and their liquor-dealing activities in Franklin County, Virginia, at a time when alcohol was banned in the US.

Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave, who had in fact worked together on 2005 Western, The Proposition, were reportedly attracted to the story by the success of the Bondurants, who as bootleggers and moonshine manufacturers had been drawn into a 'lawless' and corrupt world, but for the most part (and contrary to most gangster stories) eventually went on to get out and live ordinary lives.

The premise was hot and the cast – albeit going through a few changes from inception to screening – was sizzling. But would the cash flow at the veritable speakeasy that was the box office? Or would Hillcoat and co. be left a little dry?..

In 1931, Forrest Bondurant (Hardy) is whispered to be immortal after his cheating of death. In partnership with his brothers, Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (LaBoeuf), Forrest is the proud proprietor of a distillery and a bootlegging operation.

When scheming state's attorney Mason Wardell (Tim Tolin) arrives in the brothers' home county of Franklin with merciless US Marshal Charles Rakes (Pearce), Forrest refuses to adhere to their demands for a cut of the illegal business's profits. So begins a vendetta against the brothers that Rakes is determined to see through to the bitter and bloody end.

Meanwhile, Forrest hires the troubled Maggie (Chastain) as a waitress, becoming ever more fond of her with each day that passes. But with the Bondurant brothers facing a fight for their business and their lives, will Maggie be the one who comes to pay a price? The battle of the lawless is on...

Screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Lawless received a near 10-minute standing ovation. At the box office in went on to make $54.4 million against a $26 million budget, and was met with a generally favourable response from audiences and critics.

With a stand-out turn from Hardy in the type of rugged-yet-deep-and-layered leading man role we have come accustomed to see him shine in, Lawless has stood the test of the last ten years and has weathered well.

It will take an extraordinary flick to ever knock Brian De Palma's The Untouchables from the 'prohibition pic' top spot. Yet Lawless reminds us that this is a period of American history that is rich in cinematic potential, and that there was more to 30s US gangsterism than New York and Chicago.

A cracking tale of moonshine mayhem from start to finish, this is one we can all raise a glass to.

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