At FACT cinema’s live satellite Q&A on Wednesday, director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) introduced his new film Lawless, an adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s 2008 novel originally inspired by his grandfather’s knuckleduster.

Modern day Renaissance man Nick Cave composed the film’s score and also wrote the screenplay for the movie, which shares similar themes to The Proposition (2005), his previous collaboration with Hillcoat.

Set in Franklin County, Virginia, during the depression-hit 1930s, Lawless is based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, infamous bootleggers and violent outlaws. The notorious family brewed and supplied moonshine in prohibition-era Franklin, which would eventually be coined as ‘the wettest county in the world’.

The original owner of the aforementioned knuckleduster is Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), a cigar smoking hulk of a man with an almost legendary status. Man of the moment Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is magnificent as the uncompromising and inarticulate roughneck, a feared man who’s convinced everyone, including himself, that he’s invincible.

After arriving in from Chicago to ‘clean up’ the county, the corrupt and psychotic special deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) isn’t persuaded by Forrest’s mythical status. Rakes’ unrelenting pursuit of the brothers becomes increasingly ruthless as the Bondurants continually thwart his attempts to shut them down. Pearce (Prometheus, The Road) is at times truly terrifying as the camp and crazed Deputy, but too often teeters into the role of slapstick baddy.

Set in the glorious Virginian countryside, Lawless is an unfamiliar and gritty take on a gangster movie with a excellent soundtrack. The Bondurant boys’ lives are far removed from the sharp dressed hoodlums of the big city – but younger brother Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) has ambitious plans for the illegal liquor trade.

Ill prepared, Jack faces humiliation as he steps away from the protection of his older siblings by turning to big time Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) looks like he’s having fun as the larger-than-life villain alongside his almost comic sidekick Gummy Walsh played by the versatile Noah Taylor (Submarine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Showing real emotional depth, LaBeouf’s (Transformers, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) performance is his best to date, as the young and reckless wanabee but his unlikely romance with Mennonite girl Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) isn’t as convincing.

Hillcoat and Cave’s stellar ensemble cast suggests Lawless is a big-budget movie, but according to the director the film was originally dropped in 2008 by the studio due to unwanted correlations with the economic downturn. The film, which started out with a different cast including Ryan Gosling as Forrest, was eventually made but on a far smaller budget.

The new cast includes Jessica Chastain’s (The Help, The Tree of Life) as city girl Maggie Beauford whose slow burning relationship with Forrest is tender, passionate and heartbreaking. Jason Clarke (Public Enemies, Rabbit Proof Fence) and Dane DeHaan (Jack and Diane, Chronicle) are also outstanding as hard man Howard Bondurant and cripple Cricket Pate.

Lawless is a brutal and violent film that looks at America’s past and challenges the myths that history creates. The USA may believe in its invincibility but as the movie shows immortality belongs to the story books.

Lawless is showing now at FACT