“Transformers” star Shia LaBeouf takes on the role of the youngest Bondurant brother, the smart, sensitive, forward-thinking Jack, in The Weinstein Company’s epic, gangster tale, “Lawless.”
To be shown soon exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3 and Trinoma), “Lawless” is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: three bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. Based on author Matt Bondurant’s fictionalized account of his family, The Wettest County in the World, the film gathers an ensemble of gifted, dynamic new-generation stars – LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan – alongside two of the finest actors of their generations, Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman.
A riveting, intense story of crime and corruption, loyalty and love, brutality and tenderness, “Lawless” is a rich addition to the American gangster canon.
LaBeouf was drawn to the project for myriad reasons, not the least of which was director John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road”). “I’m a fan, I would show up to do anything with John,” the actor enthuses. “John’s films are all very visceral and honest. He is a truth-seeker, incredibly intelligent and has a great visual style. He lets shots breathe; it’s old-school, John Ford vista-type stuff. He knows how to tell the story in one frame and he lets that frame do the work. It’s a style of working I hadn’t experienced before, and I was very excited by it.”
LaBeouf was also captivated by Bondurant’s novel and the seminal period of American history it explored. He delved into the history of bootlegging, its specific relationship in Virginia to the legacy of coal mining, the socioeconomics of the region, particularly the religious and racial schisms. Above all, the role of Jack intrigued LaBeouf. Jack, enterprising and eager, has to find his way, not only as resourceful young bootlegger but also within the Bondurant clan, as the power dynamic between the three brothers begins to shift. Jack experiences a spectrum of emotions throughout the course of the film as, essentially, he grows up.
“I had never played a part like this before. This is a boy becoming a man in many ways. He has his first drink of moonshine, his first kiss,” LaBeouf observes. ”The film is also about a family going through combustion. They’re dealing with many problems all at once; meanwhile, the power balance is shifting from Forrest and Howard to Jack. When you first meet Jack, he’s full of empathy; he lives on a farm and he can’t watch his brothers kill a pig. That empathy is hindering his criminal career, and this is a family of criminals. During that time, bootlegging was the only avenue available to many poor and disenfranchised people. All they had was their skills. For the Bondurant family, their talent was for making liquor.”
He adds that Jack has a fascination for the bootleggers, specifically the Chicago-style gangsters and that admiration informs much of the character’s drive and ambition. “Jack comes from a new generation. He was seeing these Robin Hood-type characters fighting against the government. These were the new Americans. Guys who came from the bottom of the barrel and were able to muscle their way into some kind of foundation where they could not only support their families but their entire communities. This family was spearheading this revolution at the time. The bootlegger was the superhero of that period, especially to someone in his twenties, like Jack,” LaBeouf notes.
LaBeouf was not yet a major international star when Hillcoat caught the young actor’s performing in the 2006 independent drama “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.”
Remembers the director, “I thought, who the hell is that kid? Then I saw him in `Disturbia’ and again I thought his performance was amazing. Then came `Transformers,’ and even as he was surrounded by special effects and robots, Shia managed to create a compelling, three-dimensional character. So I thought he was really interesting and it would be great to see him do something more unexpected. Shia had the range to play Jack, who experiences every single emotion, from rage and despair to total joy and happiness. And I could easily see him as a young man in the Prohibition era. He was very interested, he was very passionate when I met him and continued to be throughout, so I knew this was the guy.”