Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest of the Bondurant brothers; Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is the eldest and Howard (Jason Clarke) is the most feared and these brothers have various businesses but mostly produce and run moonshine. It is a dangerous business as in the depression era not only are there those willing to rob you for your money but there are also rival businessmen and gangsters to watch out for. But there is also the law, well the law who can't be bribed and in this case that is special lawman Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) a sadistic lawman who is going to bring the Bondurant brothers to order, his version of order.
If you want to hire an actor who can just stand there and cause people to back down you give Tom Hardy a call, there is something imposing about Hardy, his build, his confidence the cold look he can deliver in his eyes which disguises what he is thinking. Tom Hardy is the best thing about "Lawless" and every single scene he is in grabs your attention by the way he creates the character of Forrest a man who chomps down on a cigar and moves about at his own pace because no one tells him what to do. Director John Hillcoat quickly realises this and doesn't try to fancy up the scenes with Hardy in, he allows the actor to draw us in to this mean and moody bad boy.
Now in fairness Hardy's performance is not the only good one and Guy Pearce brings to life Charlie Rakes the flamboyant and arrogant special law man who makes Forrest Bondurant the object of his attention. Pearce makes Rakes such an arrogant being that you just hope Forrest will knock him about especially when he demeans everyone who lives in the hills as being ignorant hicks. Again director Hillcoat lets Pearce do his thing because there are few actors who have his ability for delivering such a wide range of characters.
You may be wondering what Hillcoat does, well he delivers this storyline and brings to it atmosphere, drama and violence, lots of violence. And I am sure being a moonshiner back in the depression era was a violent career to have, probably a lot more violent than what is shown in "Lawless". The trouble is that the acting and the violence is great the actual storyline isn't and at almost two hours "Lawless" ends up being a meandering drama which seems to be nothing, nothing, violence, nothing.
What this all boils down to is that "Lawless" is powerful thanks to the look, the violence and especially because of the acting of Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce. But at 2 hours "Lawless" comes up short on content and if it had been cut back by 20 minutes would have felt less laboured and a much better movie.