In 1931(Lawless), the Bondurant brothers—Forrest, Howard and Jack—are running a successful moonshine business in Franklin County, Virginia, with the help of their friend, Cricket Pate, using their bar as a front for their illegal activities. One day, Jack witnesses mobster Floyd Banner shooting a competitor and they exchange looks before Jack returns to the bar, where Forrest hires Maggie Beauford, a dancer from Chicago, to be their new waitress. Shortly afterwards, the bar is visited by newly-arrived Special Deputy Charley Rakes, who informs
Forrest that he wants a cut of all profit made by the county's bootleggers. Forrest refuses and threatens to kill Rakes if he returns. Forrest later meets with the other bootleggers and convinces them to stand up to Rakes as well, though they eventually give in to Rakes' intimidation tactics.
Meanwhile, Jack(Lawless) meets Bertha Minnix, daughter of the local German Baptist preacher. He attends their church drunk and makes a fool of himself, causing Bertha's father to forbid her from seeing him, which only makes her more interested in Jack. Jack later finds Rakes raiding Cricket's house in search of his distillation equipment, and Rakes brutally beats Jack to send a message to his brothers. Forrest learns of this and tells Jack that he needs to learn how to fight for himself. Forrest and Howard arrange to meet with potential clients from Chicago, but Howard gets drunk with a friend and misses the appointment. Forrest ends up beating the two men with Cricket's help when they harrass Maggie. Later, after Cricket leaves, the men return, slash Forrest's throat, and rape Maggie.
While Forrest(Lawless) recovers at a hospital, Jack decides to travel to Chicago with Cricket to sell their remaining liquor. Arriving there, they are doublecrossed by their clients but are rescued by Banner, who recognizes Jack. Banner already knows of the attack on Forrest, as well as the identities of the two assailants; he provides Jack with their address and advises Jack that they are working for Rakes. Forrest and Howard later find, torture, and kill the men to send a message to Rakes. Banner becomes a regular client of the brothers, who move their distillation equipment to the woods and have great profit. The money allows Jack to continue courting Bertha, while Forrest begins a relationship with Maggie after she moves into the bar for her safety, though she does not tell him she was raped. Jack eventually decides to show Bertha the distillation center, but they are ambushed by Rakes and his men, who had followed them. Howard and Jack are forced to flee from Rakes's men with Bertha and Cricket, however Cricket is later recaptured and murdered by Rakes.
Wanting(Lawless) revenge for Cricket's death, Jack goes to confront Rakes and his men at a roadblock at a local bridge. Howard follows after him, rallying the bootleggers to come to their aid. Forrest joins them, though Maggie tries to dissuade him, telling him that it was she who had found him with his throat slashed and took him to the hospital. Forrest realizes then that she was also attacked that night, though Maggie does not say so. The bootleggers engage Rakes' men in a firefight, during which Rakes shoots Forrest multiple times before being shot in the leg and attempting to escape. Jack and Howard confront Rakes, shooting him in the chest with a gun, and stabbing him in the back with a knife to his death. With Rakes and his men dead, the Bondurants decide to save their money and retire after Prohibition ends. By November 1940, Jack has married Bertha, Forrest has married Maggie(Lawless), and Howard has married a local woman, all having children. During a reunion at Jack's house, Forrest walks to a frozen lake and falls into the freezing water, dying from pneumonia.