Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Lawless” is the Hollywood name given to Matt Bondurant’s novel, “The Wettest County in the World,” which was inspired by the true stories of his grandfather and great-­uncles, who were moonshiners in Franklin County, Virginia.  The film is directed by John Hillcoat and differentiates itself from other historical films by focusing not on a heralded figure in history, but instead on the regular people that are too often forgotten by the history books. 
The film focuses on the three Bondurant brothers; Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and the runt of the litter is Jack (Shia LaBeouf).  The film tells the compelling story of the moonshine and bootlegging business which was prominent in the Prohibition era.  The Volstead Act of 1919 lead to the illicit manufacture and trade that didn’t end with the repeal of Prohibition.  Franklin County was known as the “wettest county” as just about every family had someone involved in the trade.  With the notoriety of being labeled the “wettest county” comes the attention of Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) and the rest of the establishment that are seeking a piece of the illegal action and looking to make things difficult for anyone not willing to toe the line.  While others in the community allowed for the local government and the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) to bully them, the Bondurant boys don’t lay down for nobody. 
A secondary story focused on the romantic lives Jack courting Bertha (Mia Wasikowska); and Maggie (Jessica Chastain) working for Forrest.  As the daughter of a preacher, Bertha had a bit of a rebellious streak in her as she accepted the attention of Jack.  However, it is the strong and independent nature of Maggie that stands out in these two female characters. 
Much of the hype for this film will be generated by the fans of Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf.  Both do well in their performances, with Tom Hardy providing a physical dominance that demands respect.  For those that complained they couldn’t understand him in “Dark Knight Rises”, you might actually have a harder time understanding his grunts and mumblings as Forrest.  As for Shia LaBeouf he is still a bit whinny at times, but that goes with his character who is trying to impress Bertha and gain the respect of his brothers. 
The performance from Jason Clarke stood above all of the others, which is impressive considering the amazing cast.  He fully absorbed his role as the wild animal, Howard Bondurant.  The look in his eyes makes you feel that he is crazy drunk and could be ready to explode at any moment.  He is best known for his co-leading role in the TV series “Brotherhood”, but up to now has been in the shadow of fellow “Brotherhood” actor Jason Isaacs.  However, 2012-2013 look to be a big year for Jason Clarke and I look forward to see what he can do with “The Great Gatsby” (2013) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). 
Gary Oldman appears briefly in a couple of memorable scenes, but I wish that his character had been given a bigger part in the story. This would have required the telling of other stories that would have diminished the importance of the main story.  So to limit him to just the few scenes made sense to me.  However, I wish he was casted as the deputy because I think he would have done better than Guy Pearce who played the villain in an uncomfortable way.  I had envisioned the deputy to be similar to the performance Gary Oldman offered up in “Book of Eli”. 
The writing style of Matthew Bondurant lends itself to the adapted screenplay through his detailed descriptions, excellent dialogue, and the scene structure which compartmentalizes each moment of the story.  However, for a story that encompasses a period for the Bondurant boys that spans five years the film missed the mark on this.  In one scene a character may be beaten up and bloodied but only moments later completely cleaned up without a bruise.  The director attempted to compensate for the passing of time through a voice over, but from a technical perspective it detracted from the story. 
An aspect of the novel that is lacking from the film is the inclusion of Sherwood Anderson, who is a writer as well and serves as a “watcher” to the story.  Sherwood Anderson wrote several novels and influenced William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  He wrote “Kit Brandon” in 1936, which was influenced by his experiences in Franklin County, the legend of Willie Carter Sharpe, and the Great Moonshine Conspiracy trial of 1935.  In a way, “The Wettest County in the World” is a prequel to “Kit Brandon”.  Additionally, the film does not include the pivotal role that the loss of their mother and sisters played on the Bondurant boys, specifically Forrest who felt responsible for their deaths. 
Overall, I found this to be a very well adapted screenplay with performances from Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke that stood above all others.  I would even go so far as to say that Jason Clarke deserves a nomination for best supporting actor.  Additionally, the soundtrack was amazing and might garner a best original song in the mix of amazing songs from Emmy Lou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), and my nominee for best song goes to Willie Nelson.  All together this is a fun 4 Quack film.

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