Early in Lawless — an entertaining bloodbath about Depression-era Virginia moonshiners — two rival roosters fight chest to chest in the dust, and our metaphor is established. When a cologne-soaked Chicago cop (Guy Pearce) comes to town and sets his price for letting the 'shiners conduct their enterprise, the war of machismo begins. (Spoiler alert: Hix Kix Slix Dix.) Throw in an urban gangster (Gary Oldman) and some dames (Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska) and you've got your party.
The hills have three legendary Bondurant brothers, but only two matter: brass-knuckled big brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) and reticent little brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf). Their story is "true," but Lawless, directed by John Hillcoat (The Road), is more mythological than historical (by design, I'm sure). It never feels serious, but it starts to feel even less so as it races along.
Two compelling early scenes seem almost otherworldly: a creepy church service, and a funeral, with the corpse standing upright, a cigarette in his mouth. The rest is quickly paced hokum. The three non-American actors manage enjoyable character performances, even though their characters are as thin as the celluloid that contains them, but poor little Shia just looks helpless. I'm not sure yet what he's good at, but it isn't this.