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The Wild West was a brutal time, the Prohibition era of Chicago gangsters just as much so.

Throw the two together in a tale of bootlegging brothers clashing with the mob and corrupt cops, and you have the perfect concoction for Aussie filmmaker John Hillcoat, whose fourth flick, Lawless, is his most enjoyable yet.

Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke and Shia LaBeouf are the Bondurant brothers. Locally feared and admired in equal measure in 1930s Franklin County, their moonshine business puts them on a collision course with Gary Oldman’s Chicago gangster and Guy Pearce’s corrupt – and shaved-eyebrowed, creepy-looking – special agent.

Being a Hillcoat film, Lawless is violent. Several scenes will have you squirming as throats are slit, testicles removed, and one young man makes a painful acquaintance with a barrel of boiling tar.

It also, though, shows a move forward for the director, as a duo of female characters refresh his usually male-centric narratives; Jessica Chastain excels as Hardy’s love interest, and Mia Wasikowska’s young Amish girl brings an element of naivety to a world of brutality.

Lawless toys with notions of good and evil as the criminals become folk heroes, cops the corrupt money-grabbers, and is, memorably, imbued with a riotous sense of humour, much stemming from Hardy’s portrayal of a bullish brother afraid of no man, but intimated by women – and from scribe Nick Cave’s pen.

Throw in an uplifting ending, of sorts, and you have a bold step forward for Hillcoat. One you might even call crowd-pleasing, albeit bruised and blood-stained.

Good for: Seeing the gangster flick go rural

Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf | 18 | 116mins | On general release Sept 7


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Film review: Lawless
Digital Mag

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