John Hillcoat (director)
Momentum Pictures (studio)
Cert 18 (certificate)
115 min (length)
14 January 2013 (released)
07 February 2013
It is not the violence that sets men apart. It is the distance that he is prepared to go. This slice of dialogue from Aussie director John Hillcoat’s brutal bootleggers-gone bad-saga sums up the tone for most of the movie.
It’s 1931 in Franklin County, Virginia – the wettest county in the world. So wet in fact that the ‘moonshine’, which the Bondurant Brothers are brewing, keeps on flowing and flowing. Things a further helped courtesy of best mate Cricket (Dane DeHaan), as well as the very darn handy gas station, which functions as the front for their activities.
But where there’s illegal brewing during prohibition times going on, trouble is never far away. Indeed, trouble arrives in the shape of mobster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), who’s just cleared some unwanted competition out of the way.
When Banner exchanges looks with the oldest Bondurant brother, Forrest (a fierce and fearsome Tom Hardy), we know that ever more trouble is a-brewing.
While Forrest employs former city dancer Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) to work as the new waitress in the local caf (she sure must have fallen on bad times), someone else hires Special Deputy Charley Rakes (a terrific and terrifying Guy Pearce). Rakes is a corrupt and brutal dandy from the city, with a confused sexuality and alien looks to match. He makes it clear to the Bondurant brothers that he expects a cut from all the profits of the county’s bootleggers. Suffice to say, Forrest won’t have any of this nonsense and tries to persuade fellow bootleggers to stand up against that irritating ‘nance’.
Meanwhile, during a social barn-dance get-together, youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) falls for innocent lamb Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), the daughter of local Mennonite preacher Tizwell Minnix (Alex Van). Some time later, during a feet-washing ceremony in the church, Jack gets cold feet and leaves the House Of God panic-stricken and in a hurry. However, opposites attract and eventually, Bertha comes to tolerate and accept Jack’s ‘courtin’ (much to the dismay of her stern daddy). The scene during the church ceremony is particularly captivating, as it provides some interesting insight into the religious practices of the Mennonites.
Remaining brother Howard (Jason Clarke) has his hands full keeping the youngest as well as the oldest brother out of trouble, but it’s not before soon when all three find themselves in more trouble than they could possibly have bargained for…
Based on the historical novel ‘The Wettest County In The World’ by Matt Bondurant (grandson of Jack Bondurant), director Hillcoat joined forces with fellow Aussie Nick Cave, who provided the screenplay and – it goes without saying – most of the soundtrack. The result is perhaps not as streamlined and close-knit in narrative as their other collaborative effort The Proposition, but as far as nitty-gritty films about America’s prohibition era go, Lawless is up there with the best of them.
While the plot tends to branch out a little too much at times – confusing things in the process – the film’s true strength lies in Benoît Delhomme’s moody cinematography, as well as the convincing performances of its actors (Hardy, Pearce and Oldman in particular).
Ultra brutal (we get everything from shootings, stabbings, rape, mutilations to someone being tarred and feathered) and ferocious in its intensity, we know we are in Hillcoat territory through and through.
Rarely has moonshine left such a bitter aftertaste!
To sweeten the bitter aftertaste, both DVD and Blu-ray come with some tempting Extras, including featurettes ‘The Bondurant Family’, ‘Lawless: The True Story’, ‘Franklin County, VA, Then and Now’, commentaries, deleted scenes, music video feat country legend Willie Nelson (well, for a few seconds anyway…).