Following up on Thunder Road (1958) and in stark contrast to Deliverance (1972, whose murderous mountain men might be moonshiners), Lawless (dir. John Hillcoat, 2014) presents the mountain men of 1920s and 1930s Virginia who brew and sell illegal whiskey as fierce individualists trying to live their lives the way they want to live, and who react violently when political corruption pressures them to join a local syndicate and pay monthly “protection” to the county attorney. Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is the center of this drama, a stolid, unspeaking man who accepts interference from no one. He reacts with violence to anyone who challenges him. He’s also the object of many threats. In the film his throat is cut and he’s shot multiple times, but he always manages to recover. Some people who know him joke that he must be immortal, and it’s suggested that Forrest and his brothers Holland and Jack might believe that story.
Lawless believes in the Bondurant brothers. It shows their lives together and individually. It traces the develop of romantic relationships between Jack Bondurant and Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) , a local young Mennonite girl, and between Forrest and Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former nightclub dancer from Chicago. Maggie is as hard bitten as Forrest. But neither she nor Bertha look much like women who would have lived in the Virginia moonshine country of the 1930s.
It’s not clear that Forrest is an innovative or forward-thinking man. He’s stubborn and insistent on doing things his own way and he likes things organized and efficient, and that helps account for the success of his moonshining operations. His youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBoeuf) , on the other hand, is ambitious. As the younger brother, he often isn’t taken seriously, even when he offers to step up his involvement in his brother’s business. He wants a shiny car and snappy clothes. He’s afraid of violence and confrontation, so he has to battle those inclinations. He’s also careless and rash, and much that goes wrong in the film is somehow his fault.