Set in 1931 during the early years of Prohibition and the Great Depression, John Hillcoat's uber-violent gangster/Western introduces the legendary Bondurants, a trio of bootlegging brothers who controlled whiskey manufacturing and distribution in Franklin County in the backwoods of Virginia.
Hot-headed Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest and serves as the narrator. Big, boozy Howard (Jason Clarke) is the oldest but he's still shell-shocked from WWI so his role is, basically, that of an enforcer, which leaves the taciturn middle son, Forrest (Tom Hardy), as the brains behind the family business. Their parents died in the Spanish flu epidemic and they run a rural cafe/feed store/gas station that serves as a front for their moonshining operation, which is disrupted by the arrival of corrupt Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce), who wants a share of profits generated by their particularly high-grade hooch, carefully concocted by crippled Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) at their secret distillery. A fastidious dandy, Rakes is a sadistic psychopath whose pastimes are rape and murder. Plus there's notorious Chicago mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Jack's girlfriend is a Mennonite minister's rebellious daughter, Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), while Forrest is involved with Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a former burlesque "dancer" from Chicago. But the women get short-shrift insofar as screen time goes.
Adapted by musician/screenwriter Nick Cave (who contributes a fiddle/banjo score) from Matt Bondurant's 2008 semi-biographical novel, "The Wettest County in the World," in the hands of Australian director John Hillcoat, best known for his post-apocalyptic parable "The Road" (2009), working with cinematographer Benoit Delhomme and editor Dylan Tichenor, the crime-saga carnage emerges as a menacingly artistic Americana relic.
Despite its obvious visual merits, there's an auditory problem with the actors' pseudo-Appalachian accents. Tom Hardy, who growled his villainous way through "The Dark Knight Rises" with a mask covering his face, is perhaps the worst offender, sounding nothing like his moonshining "brothers" Jason Clarke or Shia LeBeouf.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Lawless" is an uneven yet vividly stylishly 6, filled with brutal bloodshed.