Lawless Blu-ray Review
When you hear the word “bootlegger” you probably conjure up an image of toothless men in bib overalls, spitting tobacco and in need of a bath. Back in the days of prohibition that may have occasionally been true. But in the almost fourteen years America was “dry,” bootlegging was also a major business, for those who made it and, obviously, for those who sold it, with smart men on both sides of the coin. In 1931 the “wettest county in the world” was tiny Franklin County in Virginia. And the gang you talked to if you wanted to wet your whistle was the Bondurant brothers.
Based on the historical novel The Wettest County in the World, in which author Matt Bondurant detailed the adventures of his grandfather, Jack Bondurant, and his brothers, LAWLESS is a well told behind the scenes tale of a family just trying to make a living and the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to survive. Oldest brother Forrest (Hardy) is the brains, middle sibling Howard (Jason Clarke) is the muscle while youngest brother Jack (LaBeouf) is relegated to driver. Jack wants to do more but Forrest doesn’t think he’s ready yet. The brothers operate a gas station/restaurant during the day and deliver their hooch at night. They’ve managed to take care of the local authorities but soon find themselves targeted by a zealous revenue agent named Rakes (Pearce), whose ways are surely not sanctioned by the government. Things take a violent turn after Jack goes behind Forrest’s back and makes a deal with syndicate bad guy Floyd Banner (the always great Gary Oldman). There’s even a little romance mixed in, with LaBeouf finding himself smitten by the daughter of the local preacher.
The most important thing about a period piece is that the characters come across as believable. They do here thanks to the performances, especially those of Hardy and Pearce. Adapting a slight rural accent Hardy melts perfectly into the role of Forrest. As the only survivor of his platoon in World War I, and having withstood serious illness, the locals whisper that Forrest is immortal. Whether that legend is true or not, Hardy gives Forrest the strong silence needed to make it believable. Pearce, almost unrecognizable thanks to his physical transformation, is downright evil. If you remember his performance as a police officer in LA CONFIDENTIAL, think of him here as the “Anti-Ed Exley!” LaBeouf spends the first half of the film getting beaten up a lot but once Jack makes his deal with Banner his character suddenly comes alive. As the preacher’s daughter, Mia Wasikowska adds a little lightness to the story. Jessica Chastain is also fine as a former girl with a past from Chicago who comes to work for the brothers as a waitress, though her character seems to only be around to further some plot points.
The direction is straight-forward and the period details well captured. Also kudos to Nick Cave (who also adapted the screenplay) and Warren Ellis for their musical score which truly evokes the memory of a time long past.
Video: The 1080p transfer here is outstanding. Every image, be it the bright colors of the Virginia mountains to the darker, dustier hues of the town, stand out strong. The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and was originally presented in 2:39.1
Audio: Well mixed, though there were some low spots where I had to turn up the volume to catch some dialogue. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Audio Commentary: Director Hillcoat and Matt Bondurant have a fun time talking not only about the film but the historical aspects of the film and the period it is set in. Also some great behind the scenes production details.
Deleted Scenes (7:58): Six deleted scenes, none of which really was missed.
Lawless: The True Story of the Wettest County in the World (21:33): Both cast and crew talk about the historical aspects of the film.
Franklin County, Virginia: Then and Now (6:11): A nice piece about the history of Franklin County and what it’s like now.
The Story of the Bondurant Family (12:44): Matt Bondurant gives a glimpse of his famous family, including some nice vintage era photographs.
Midnight Run Music Video (1:39): A short video by the Red Headed Stranger himself, Willie Nelson.