In the decades since the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, some have looked back on the folly of Prohibition and determined that it didn’t accomplish much. I beg to differ.

Were it not for America’s failed 13-year experiment, we never would have had the severely under-appreciated joy of Repeal Day. We may have had to wait decades for the rise of organized crime (and, accordingly, mob movies). And we certainly would not have the bootlegger-as-legendary-figure meme.

If only I could also thank our national leaders’ faux pas for leading us to Lawless, John Hillcoat’s ode to moonshining magnates, the Bondurant boys. Based on the novel, “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant – grandson and grandnephew of the story’s protagonists – Nick Cave’s (yes, that Nick Cave) screenplay never falls flat, but does stumble around at times like a rummy after one too many sips of bathtub gin.

Franklin County, Virginia. Just after the pass of Prohibition. Word ’round these parts is that the Bondurant boys are invincible … and after the brothers escape nearly every sort of calamity from hellacious beatings to throat slittings, you’ll start to believe it. Good thing, too, because they’re not the shiniest stills in the shed.

There’s Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke), the eldest son freshly returned from the Great War and quite a bit worse for wear. The middle brother, Forrest (Tom Hardy) , survivor of the deadly Spanish Flu and undisputed leader of the group. His often-unintelligible grunts can express anything from wisdom to bewilderment. He also might be the most indestructible non-super hero since Robert Patrick tried hunting down Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. And then there’s Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the baby of the bunch, whose stones continually write checks his mind isn’t ready to cash.

Things are good up in the mountains. That is until order comes to town in the form of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). Actually, aside from carrying a badge, Rakes makes no pretense of trying to uphold or enforce the law. He’s simply there to bust heads for just about any reason. What Rakes lacks in scruples, he makes up for in cruelty. By the end of the film, Pearce is a top hat and curly mustache away from becoming the equally two-dimensional Snidely Whiplash.

It might have been better had this film stayed with the escalating battle between outlaws and John Laws. Instead, it occasionally forays into the metaphorical woods, wasting some of its performers along the way. Gary Oldman’s turn as gangster Floyd Banner arrives with a rat-a-tat but the character isn’t really given much to do afterward. Same for Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), who is barkeeper at the brothers’ tavern and Tom’s erstwhile lover.

As for the brothers themselves, they don’t inspire much in the way of empathy or disdain. Rakes is clearly the bad guy in the film, but it certainly doesn’t make the Bondurants heroes. There’s nothing particularly clever about the trio and they don’t boast superior strength to their foes. Instead the trio succeeds through sheer force of will. That would be virtuous if it were driven by a desire for an end goal – positive or negative. But neither rebellion, community nor capitalism seem to be the group’s aim (Jack notwithstanding). They do what they do out of sheer stubbornness. It’s apparently the Bondurant way.

True to its source material, Lawless frequently indulges in graphic violence, most notably when Forrest has his throat brutally opened up by a pair of rivals. Although, being the most durable of the Bondurant clan, it’s not long before he’s back in circulation. In fact, the bounds of Forrest’s deathlessness reach near-comic proportions.

Sipping a frosty lager as I write this, I send a nod of gratitude to the Bondurant boys and those of their ilk whose willful disregard for the law today allows rappers to advertise vodka on television. On some level, I’m sure it was inspiring. I just wish Lawless would have done a better job finding it.

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG