By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After a string of big-budget Hollywood flicks like the "Transformers" and "Indiana Jones" franchise films, actor Shia LaBeouf is downsizing his career and taking on new, dramatic challenges in movies such as "Lawless".
The film, which opened Wednesday to mixed reviews, is based on author Matt Bondurant's "The Wettest County in the World," a fictional account of his family in Prohibition-era Virginia, and LaBeouf said the tale touched him due to his own upbringing.
"In terms of the character's emotions, the things he goes through, where he winds up, what he's dealing with, the family elements, the alpha male fight, it was all things that resonate with me heavily," LaBeouf told Reuters.
"Lawless" tells of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers, played in the film by Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy and LaBeouf. When Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) arrives from Chicago, he threatens the brothers' moonshine business.
Complicating matters are shifting family dynamics in which LaBeouf's character Jack, the youngest Bondurant, wants to prove to his older brothers he can run the business.
Against their wishes, Jack starts his own bootlegging operation, deals with a big city gangster (Gary Oldman) and flaunts his new, expensive suits and cars, hoping to impress a girl in town played by Mia Wasikowska.
For Jack, his older brothers are at times frustrating - one is an alcoholic suffering post traumatic stress following World War I and the other puts on an air of invincibility.
In real life, LaBeouf's own father is a Vietnam veteran who struggled with alcohol abuse, and the actor said the family dynamics in the film "touched on a lot of aspects of my life".
"Even as an only child, who grew up with a father who's very alpha male, who I was competitive with, who was a criminal...I looked at (the script) and thought, man, I could really bring these moments to light."
The movie opened ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend in the United States, and has earned a 58.3 percent positive rating among reviews scored by moviereviewintelligence.com.
USA Today critic Claudia Puig wrote that the film had "anachronistic moments, stilted dialogue and formulaic characters (that) hamper this intermittently involving tale."
LABEOUF'S DRAMATIC TURN
After starring in films that were big on special effects but low on character, such as the blockbuster "Transformers" flicks, the 26-year-old LaBeouf will likely see many more thoughtful, critical looks at his work in dramatic roles.
He has taken roles in a string of lower-profile movies, starting with "Lawless" and including upcoming "The Company You Keep" and "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman".
LaBeouf, who began acting as a teenager, said the change in direction was a factor of his current age and stage in life. He is growing up, maturing and moving away from special effects-filled flicks with robots and computer generated images.
"Ask an 18-year-old what he wants to do: 'You want to do 'Transformers' or (a movie with Danish avant garde filmmaker) Lars von Trier?' He's shipping out for 'Transformers,'" said LaBeouf. "Ask a 26-year-old what he wants to do - 'Transformers' or Lars Von Trier - he's shipping out for Von Trier."
True to his statement, LaBeouf is currently in Germany shooting Von Trier's "The Nymphomaniac" also starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard.
"The movie is about the intricacies of love and sex, what they both mean and can you remove one from the other," said LaBeouf. "It's just asking a lot of big questions."
He recently told MTV that the script for "Nymphomanic" requires him to perform real sex acts. It comes on the heels of his nude appearance in a music video for folk band Sigur Ros, and he recently admitted taking the hallucinogen LSD to prepare for his role in "Charlie Countryman".
"My sensibilities are changing as I'm changing," he said.
(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Andrew Hay)