1. It is strange to consider the fact that Shia LaBeouf considers Lawless an art film. Only a guy who has spent his adult life standing in front of a green screen while Michael Bay screams "I dunno, just, like, run like crazy, and shit" could consider Lawless some sort of higher, refined form of expression. That is not necessarily a knock against the film; it is fun and raucous and light-hearted in exactly the ways you want it to be, a Prohibition Western that hits all the right notes. But only in LaBeouf's universe is this Ingmar Bergman or something. To him, compared to everything he knows, I suppose it is.
2. Lawless is a story about three bootleggin' brothers in rural Virginia during Prohibition who are under the illusion that they cannot be killed. (It's some sort of family birthmark, to hear them tell it.) One's a drunken brute (Jason Clarke); one's a hulking secret genius who's the leader of the family (Tom Hardy); and one's the runt of the litter, the one who gets to reap all the benefits of having such powerful, bootleggin' brothers (LaBeouf). Their business gets so successful that gangsters from Chicago (led by an evil, amusing Guy Pearce) come East in search of a slice. Then shit starts getting real.
3. The screenplay is by Nick Cave (whose second-act screenwriting career is almost as fascinating as his music), and it's blissfully straightforward—spare and simple and mostly concerned with men finding out who they are, what they are, and what family means when faced with an outside threat. There are a couple women in the film, but they're mostly there to give the brothers something to do when they're not with each other. (Jessica Chastain, as a former dancer who escapes the big city and falls in love with Hardy, is a wonderful actress who invests an empty character with all the soul she can muster, but Mia Wasikowska doesn't do much with the thankless role of pretending to be intrigued by Shia LaBeouf.) The movie doesn't throw any curveballs at you; it sets up these brothers who think they can't be killed, and it sets about finding out if they're right.
4. The only real "daring" thing about the movie is that it puts LaBeouf's character at the center of it, considering his brother is the cowardly, weaselly one who just wants to dress up in fancy suits and pretend he's a gangster. You keep waiting for the movie to shake off this dork and get back to Hardy, who is as compelling and magnetic as he always is. (Though I still kept hearing Bane's muffles in his Justified accent. I suppose that's just gonna be the case with Hardy from now on.) LaBeouf's brother has an "arc," I guess, but it's not a particularly fascinating one, and he's such a watery, ineffectual screen presence that you never sense that he has much potential greatness in him, even if the movie seems to want you to think he does. Frankly, it's impossible to imagine a gene pool that could produce both him and Hardy.
5. Still, the movie is smart and focused on what it's trying to be, and considering how ramshackle and stumbling most "action" movies are—The Bourne Legacy is a thriller in which literally nothing happens—its clear story and understandable human motivations will feel a lot more refreshing than they probably should. It's also just a pleasure to watch Hardy; he's gonna be able to play these brutal-men-with-soft-hearts roles until his body turns to mush. The movie even has a nice twist at the end, which sort of explains why this pleasant but unremarkable true story was so enticing to film in the first place. This is a quiet, handy little Western at the end of the summer. That's not as big a deal as Shia LaBeouf believes it is, but considering everything else, that's not nothing.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.