The Violent True Crime Drama on Max Depicts Bloody War Between Brothers and the Law

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

If you have not seen Lawless, streaming now on Max, it’s time to buckle up and catch this true crime drama that depicts three brothers facing down corrupt lawmen at the height of Prohibition. 

Lawless is a film that struggled to find its home, its actors, and its center, but it all came together so beautifully that it deserves to be watched, talked about, and remembered. Australian screenwriter Nick Cave came across a book about the Bondurant brothers, Howard, Forrest, and Jack, who took up bootlegging to survive in their small town during Prohibition. 

American Prohibition

The book, The Wettest County in America, was written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of Jack, who wanted to tell his family’s tale of seemingly impossible invincibility. Bondurant’s book was published in 2008 and optioned to director John Hillcoat, who had worked with Cave on a previous film, The Proposition.

Still, the film was finally made three years after cast changes, a loss of funding, and two name changes. The result, Lawless, feels like destiny.

A Tale Of Brothers

Shia Lebeouf was one of the first to sign on to the production as the youngest brother, Jack Bondurant, after reading the script, and he sent a copy to Tom Hardy. Hardy loved it instantly and signed on to play the middle brother, Forrest. Jason Clarke then took the role of the oldest brother, Howard

Brothers Vs. The Feds

Lawless opens simply enough. It’s 1931 in Franklin County, Virginia, and the men run a small bootlegging outfit out of their gas station and restaurant. Howard is the even-tempered, sensible brother. Forrest is the silent but deadly brother. And Jack is the hot-headed little brother, always trying to prove himself. 

Things go well enough until U.S. Marshall Rakes, played by Guy Pearce, moves into town to clean things up. He insists the brothers, and every other bootlegger in the county, pay him and the District Attorney hush money, but, of course, the brothers refuse. 

Crime Boss Gary Oldman

The brothers flounder for a bit until hooking up with a big-time crime boss, Banner, played spectacularly by Gary Oldman, who offers to buy their product exclusively. As the Bondurants become increasingly lawless, expanding their operation to include several secret hideouts, Rakes becomes ever more brutal and ruthless in his pursuit of them and his attempt to shut them down. 

While the film is filled with extreme violence and even a rape that takes place off-screen, it is also an intensely emotional story about the unbreakable bond between these brothers. We also get to watch the men fall in love despite their harsh lifestyle. 

Romance And Bromance

Jessica Chastain sparkles as Maggie, a hardened dancer who has fallen on difficult financial times, comes to the restaurant for work. Maggie’s relationship with Forrest reveals the heart under his bullheaded exterior. Mia Wasikowska plays the perfect, prim, proper preacher’s daughter, falling head over heels for Jack.

The musical score makes you feel like you’re living in the 1930s American South, and the direction ensures you feel every cut, every punch, every twist of the knife. 

Streaming Now On Max


If you haven’t seen the movie, Lawless deserves at least 4 out of 5 stars for acting and directing alone. It’s one of those movies that critics didn’t appreciate as much as they should have, giving it only 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences disagreed, giving it an audience score of 74 percent. 

Stream it on Max because you really cannot miss this true story come alive on the screen. You won’t want to believe your eyes, but you’ll have to.