Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke: the actors playing the Bondurant brothers in Lawless

Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clark play the Bondurant brothers in Lawless, a story of moonshine and crime in Prohibition-era Virginia

Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy plays Forrest Bondurant, the laconic brother who controls the family's bootlegging operation

Hardy is a thinking man's tough guy. He combines a raw, muscular screen presence with a fierce intelligence that simmers beneath the surface and occasionally bubbles over.

As well as Forrest Bondurant in Lawless, the 34-year-old has played a number of men not to be messed with: the eponymous scourge of the British prison system in Nicolas Winding Refn's 2008 film Bronson; a martial arts fighter in last year's Warrior; and most recently the bull-necked villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He has also turned in memorable performances in Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (as agent Ricki Tarr).

As Bronson (a role for which he packed on three stone of muscle) Hardy was all talk, running verbal rings around wardens, psychologists and fellow prisoners and delivering unhinged soliloquies – when he wasn't laying waste to his surroundings. In Lawless, by contrast, as the family's seemingly indestructible middle brother Forrest, he speaks only when he has to. His default utterance is a grunt – that's how he responds when Jessica Chastain's glamorous dancer Maggie swans into town and takes a shine to him – but in spite of his taciturn nature, you can feel the heat of Forrest's intelligence. Jack may have greater ambition, but Forrest understands the limits of family power.

"Tom's take on the character was quite audacious," says John Hillcoat, the film's director. "He saw Forrest as the matriarch and the patriarch of the family, in the wake of their parents' deaths. He wanted to explore Forrest's softer side and play him in a quiet, contained way."

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf plays Jack Bondurant, the ambitious but naive youngest sibling, who wants to transform the family business

Early on in Lawless, Jack decides that his family needs to move on to bigger things. They run a modestly successful bootlegging racket and are respected and feared in their community but, with Prohibition-era America thirsty for as much moonshine as their makeshift stills can churn out, they could be achieving so much more.

Jack is played with dreamy intensity and later (as the realities of criminal life begin to kick in) with steely resolve by LaBeouf, who must be able to sympathise with Jack's predicament.

LaBeouf's first notable role was in adventure comedy Holes in 2003, and he came to prominence as the lead in 2007 thriller Disturbia. He was then snapped up to play Harrison Ford's biker son Mutt in the lamentable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and since then he's been fending off oversized machines in all three Transformers films. Last summer, he decided to call it a day and move on. He embodied the next generation of greed in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.

LaBeouf says he has never played a role like Jack Bondurant before. "This is a boy becoming a man in many ways. He has his first drink of moonshine, his first kiss. 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." His admiration for big-time Chicago gangsters and his desire to emulate them eventually harden Jack's character, and LaBeouf negotiates the transformation with great conviction while keeping a spark of Jack's innocence alive. A very convincing performance.

Jason Clarke

Jason Clarke plays Howard, the eldest brother, a relentlessly violent character who is the Bondurant clan's enforcer

If you're not familiar with the Irish-American crime drama Brotherhood, you may not be able to put a face to Jason Clarke's name, but you'll probably recognise him anyway. As well as playing opposite Jason Isaacs in Brotherhood, Clarke has appeared in Rabbit-Proof Fence, Public Enemies (as one of Johnny Depp's ill-fated hoods) and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. In Lawless, he plays Howard Bondurant, the eldest brother, who made it through the horrors of the great war, but was left emotionally scarred.

He drowns his demons with alcohol and his drunkenness makes him an unreliable partner in the bootlegging business, but he'll defend his brothers with a berserker's passion when danger draws near. "In terms of the violence in him, everything with Howard was projected outward, kind of like a tsunami; whereas with Forrest it was completely controlled and internal," said John Hillcoat, the director. "They were polar opposites as a force, and Jason completely identified all of that within his character."

Like Hillcoat, Clarke is Australian, and like Howard Bondurant he was raised in a remote rural town. "Jason grew up in the outback and was used to rural violence, which he drew on and worked out in so many ways," says Hillcoat.

"He had leg weights on to help give Howard this heft as he walked. He explored moonshine – as they all did, except for Tom." It was a shrewd bit of casting: though less well-known than Hardy or LaBeouf, Clarke is every bit as commanding.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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