Jack, Forrest, and Howard are the Bondurant brothers, three prohibition-era bootleggers in the countryside of Virginia with a reputation. Howard (Jason Clarke), the oldest brother, is a veteran who watched every single one of his troop drown around him in the Great War, while he somehow survived. Forrest (Tom Hardy), the next oldest, saw both his parents fall to a terrible epidemic sweeping the country, but he himself was able to fight it off and miraculously came back from the edge. He is thought by many to be near indestructible. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest brother, didn't grow up with quite the same hardships as his brothers, and is seen by his siblings as incapable of handling the tough realities of the business they operate. He resents this, and looks up to the slick, swagger-filled lifestyle of kingpin gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).
Forrest and Howard are a two-man team who together handle the moonshine business, serving regular customers all across the mountains. The local sheriffs are content to turn a blind eye, and even buy a couple drinks from the brothers themselves. Everything changes when the oily big-city lawman Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is sent into town from Chicago to cut into the Bondurant's lucrative business. Rakes approaches Forrest trying to strike a deal, but Forrest immediately turns him down flat, sparking the beginning of a very long and very destructive feud as these two immense forces vie for power.