Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Lawless Movie Poster Image
Outlaw brothers wage war in violent Prohibition drama.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 115 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The only positive message is that brothers have one another's backs and should be there for each other unconditionally -- but the brothers here are murderous outlaws who do lots of terrible things, and the themes are dark and mature. Viewers will learn something about the history of Prohibition.

Positive Role Models & Representations

They're dangerous outlaws, but the brothers are incredibly loyal to each other, and Jack is very gentlemany toward Bertha, even though clearly his brothers wouldn't have cared if he'd tried to bed her. Despite her checkered past, Maggie is almost maternal toward Jack and takes care of the brothers. The "bad guys" are cops -- albeit ruthless, dirty ones.


Lots of unflinchingly violent and bloody scenes. There's some gun violence (a couple of shoot outs), but most of the violence is up close and personal: brass knuckles tearing through skin, a knife slicing a man's throat, a young man's neck broken, a boot smashed on top of a head. Someone is tarred and feathered. Rape is implied but not shown (bruises are later evident). The Bondurant brothers are brutal and take offenses to their family seriously. Every major character is nearly killed, and there's a body count from all the cops-versus-moonshiners-versus-gangsters fighting. A frightened and young-looking woman sits naked on a menacing man's bed.


For most of the movie, there's little more than long gazes between two of the brothers and their respective love interests. But in the final act, one brother finally kisses the girl he fancies, while another brother has an interested woman walk into his bedroom naked (viewers see her topless and flashing a lot of skin, but not full frontal) and get on top of him.


Several uses of "f--k" and "s--t," plus "motherf---er," "c--k," "damn," "hell," "goddamn," "ass," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). And, because of the time period the movie is set in, there are also racist insults like "cracker," "hick," "negro," "hillbilly," "inbreeds," "mountain boys," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

This movie revolves around making moonshine during Prohibition, so naturally there's a whole lot of drinking (frequently to excess). Lack of inhibition due to drinking is a theme of the movie. And because it was en vogue at the time, almost everyone smokes cigarettes, too.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 April 19, 2015

Prohibition drama riddled with bullets and accents

Here's the positive thing about "Lawless": it won't make you hate Shia LaBeouf more than you already do. The actor actually carries the film... Continue reading
Adult Written bydarthsitkur October 4, 2012

brothers who became outlaws, outlaws who became heroes

this is one of the best gangster movies I've seen in a while and one of my top three faves, the only downside is that Gary oldman didn't have much scr... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bySofya03 January 16, 2021
Teen, 15 years old Written byMr Blonde January 28, 2014

What's the story?

Based on Matt Bondurant's historical novel The Wettest County in the World, LAWLESS follows the three Bondurant brothers (one of whom was the book author's grandfather), who live in the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, making and distributing moonshine during Prohibition. There's a legend about the brothers being indestructible: The oldest, Howard (Jason Clarke), was the only soldier to return from his unit in the war, middle brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) survived a bout with the deadly Spanish Flu, and baby brother Jack (Shia La Beouf) wants to be a bigger player in the family business. But the brothers' luck runs out when Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a knavish Chicago special agent, lands in town and warns the brothers to pay their due to the corrupt powers that be ... or get shut down. As expected, the brothers would rather do things their own way, even if that means a bloody feud with those they deem dishonorable.

Is it any good?

This is a gritty, fact-based drama. Australian director John Hillcoat (The Road) has emerged as a specialist in dark, violent stories that explore family relationships under extreme circumstances. Lawless incorporates the dysfunctional sibling relationships from Hillcoat's excellent but ultraviolent 2005 drama The Proposition, but with considerably more loving -- if unaffectionate -- brothers. And what a trio of brothers Hillcoat has cast: LaBeouf may be the top-billed star, but it's really Hardy's Forrest who's the brains of the Bondurant operation (Jack being the heart and Howard the all-too-eager hands). Since appearing in Inception, Hardy has quickly emerged as one of the most effectively intense actors working today, and he outacts LaBeouf despite saying very little (he grunts more than he speaks, and when he does speak, he's usually slurring a Southern drawl).

The women of the drama -- Mia Wasikowska as Bertha, the beautiful but religious girl Jack fancies, and Jessica Chastain as Maggie, a former city girl with an irresistible attraction to the quietly fierce Forrest -- are fantastic but among several underdeveloped characters. There are too many men and too much going on to give all of the subplots enough time to develop (Gary Oldman pops up in a few memorable scenes, but then, poof, he's gone). Like in The Proposition, Lawless is a movie in which arguments are resolved with guns and fists, where the law can be evil (Pearce is practically perfect as the preening psychopath agent), and your blood and your name are ultimately what define you.

Talk to your kids 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 details

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