Box art for Lawless


drama, westerns

Based on the novel "The Wettest County in the World," the film follows the infamous bootlegging Bondurant Brothers as they make a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 16
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
Positive role models
0 out of 5
4 out of 5
4 out of 5

Outlaw brothers wage war in violent Prohibition drama.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lawless is a dark, history-based drama that's not age appropriate for younger viewers, even though teens of all ages might be drawn in by stars Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf. There's lots of intense, cringe-inducing violence (including bloody scenes of torture, references to rape, and much shooting and brawling) and two scenes of nudity (one is sexual and one is menacing), as well as frequent use of strong language (including "f--k," racial epithets, and more). The themes are mature as well -- the heroes are murderous outlaws and the villains are ruthless dirty cops -- making the story too heavy for most teens.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about the way Lawless portrays alcohol and drinking. How did Prohibition affect the inhabitants of Franklin County? Does learning that this movie was based on real brothers make you want to learn more about them and the era of Prohibition?
  • There are no truly "good" and "bad" characters in this movie. Which characters are the most sympathetic? Does the story glorify criminality? Who are the heroes, and who are the villains?
  • How is the violence in this movie different than in action movies? Which has more impact, and why?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 20
    see all Lawless reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Fresh: "Lawless" offers a compelling, gruesome and instructive time-travel exercise.

- Andrew O'Hehir,, Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rotten: An inescapable sense of "so what?" sets in early with "Lawless," almost as soon as Shia LaBeouf begins his lackluster opening narration.

- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rotten: The center of narrative gravity is hard to locate; for whom are we rooting, and does anything really ripple outward from this nasty local fight?

- Anthony Lane, New Yorker, Monday, September 3, 2012

Audience Reviews

2 stars

"Lawless" is a mediocre film that just misses the mark to be something exceptional. With such a talented cast and decent director, I expected this film to be much better. But in the end it's forgettable due to the many flaws in story/character development. So let's discuss the story. It's thin, boring, and doesn't really go anywhere. We are introduced to a conflict that seems like it will be engaging but unfortunately it isn't. This is because of the two pointless love stories that take away from the narrative. There's also a side plot involving Gary Oldman that could have been interesting had it been utilized better. The three brothers are so one-dimensional it's not even funny. We never really get to know them, and while the acting is great, the depth is lacking. Howard Bondurant, played by Jason Clarke, is so underdeveloped he didn't even need to be in the film. So "Lawless" has a weak story and weak characters. It's entertaining to some extent but could have been more so if it had better pacing. Getting rid of the countless side stories that have no significance seems like a good start.

- edfilmreviews, Friday, December 14, 2012

4 stars

Lawless is a fantastically acted and mounted gangster film with plenty of pulpy violence and tension that only lets up during the final minutes. The only flaw I can see is that some of the subplots get shortchanged and not fleshed out enough (especially an excellent one with the always underrated Gary Oldman). Lawless has an oustanding portrayal of prohibition era America and all of the acting is great. Guy Pearce is especially good as the vile deputy who just oozes menace from the get go. He is the kind of character you immediately hate. Shia LeBeouf plays the main character who narrates the story and he reminds me of the talented young kid I remember and not the actor who was wasted in blockbuster drivel. Tom Hardy & Jason Clarke have smaller roles than those two, but are nonetheless effective in playing the elder brothers who are very deadly. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska round out the superb cast. This is my favorite of Hillcoat's movies so far (although it seems I'm in the minority on that) and he continues to be a director to watch.

- jlewis07, Friday, December 7, 2012

4 stars

"The stories focus was that of the three brothers and the steps they took to protect their business and themselves from a ruthless cop. I really liked this movie. I thought everyone did a great job and the story was really good. I was disappointed that I didn't see more of Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska, but their parts were mild. Tom Hardy keeps impressing me with each film I see him in. I was equally impressed with Shia LaBeouf. I thought he did a great job in this as well. I also enjoyed Dane DeHaan's performance. Everyone was great, but those three stuck out for me. The movie is, at times, pretty gruesome and violent. I thought Gary did well in the mobster role. I wanted to see a bit more of that, but at last, he still did good in his small role. I really did enjoy this movie and will definitely be seeing it again."

- LWOODS04, Sunday, December 2, 2012