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Lawless (Blu-ray Review)

It certainly has been a great year for Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) who is back in this American period piece based on a true story about moonshine bootleggers out in Franklin County, West Virginia at the height of the prohibition area. While city folk are out and about searching for fine spirits the Bondurant brothers have a pretty lucrative operation of their own that they handle on a daily basis. Featuring a stellar cast and directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) and adapted from the book The Wettest County in the World by Nick Cave of The Bad Seeds, Lawless promises to take no prisoners in its depiction of crime, bootlegging, and those caught in the middle.

Film

Lawlesstakes us back to the time of prohibition and shows us that the criminal element was alive and well in the lucrative world of illegal bootlegging. Criminals and organized crime would venture down south from the major cities looking to score product. In Franklin County, Virginia, this product was moonshine. Those running the most popular of moonshine operations were the Bondurant brothers: Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke), and Jack (Shia LeBeouf). The Bondurant boys had such an ironclad hold over the county that no one dared to stand against them. The fact that their upbringing wrapped around in legend may have had something to do with it. Forrest almost succumbed to death several times by circumstance and violence while Howard was also almost taken by violence. Jack was the only brother to be left unscathed by the world.

This reputation of being “immortal” did the boys good since they were pretty much untouchable within the town by kinfolk or law enforcement. Forrest is the tough leader of the pack who rocks a cardigan sweater, but takes crap from no man. Howard is the war veteran who is always up for a fight. Jack, the runt of the litter, has aspirations of becoming a great bootlegger like his older brothers but is smitten by a preacher’s daughter named Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska). Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain) enters the picture as someone with a checkered past of her own and takes to Forrest as she runs the “moonshine saloon” that the Bondurants own.

All is grand until new outside forces come knocking on the door. Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) ventures into Franklin County from Chicago, playing a corrupt special deputy, there to enforce the new rules of distribution, and to see who will get what kind of cut of the proverbial moonshine pie. Gary Oldman makes a quick appearance (sorta steals the show a bit for badassery) as Floyd Banner, a rival gangster that’s also involved in bootlegging, but who also comes to collect his dues from those that he has done business. Oldman electrifies in every scene that he’s in. It’s great to see the man back doing crazy.

Speaking of crazy: Guy Pearce and that crazy haircut of his also bring down the house. Rakes is a very scary gentleman with some extremely devilish proclivities. It was great to see him teaming up once again with John Hillcoat. They’re three for three.

I missed Lawless when it hit theaters, so I was actually pleasantly surprised when I was given the opportunity to review the Blu-ray. Frankly, the movie is awesome. It’s a gangster-western type of film that revolves around the prohibition era. We have characters that plow through life as living legends. I read several reviews (I know, I shouldn’t have) that said the film moved way to slow or that it was a bore, because nothing happened. Lies. Flat out lies. The movie has plenty of action and character element, with some plot devices thrown in there that serve as almost “mythic bridges” to other plot points. It was damn unique. I tease that last line, because I won’t spoil it for you.

Oh, and it’s an extremely BRUTAL film. Some of the deaths are very graphic and some of the brutality is very up close and personal. I normally don’t care for Shia LaBeouf, but of he continues to take this kind of work then I will be there to support it. He’s very good as the slowish witted Jack that just wants his time in the sun. Tom Hardy as Forrest harbors a quiet intensity and when he blows, he’s like a race car in the green. There’s nothing that will stop his retribution.

Lawless is a legit work of art and should be seen as soon as possible. Bring on more Hillcoat/Cave madness soon!

Video

Lawless is presented in 1080p, 2.35:1 widescreen. The Blu-ray is a stunner. From the gorgeous scenery, to Jessica Chastain’s outfits and hair, the color palette truly shines on this Blu-ray disc. Black levels are deep and never crush, contrast rarely runs hot, and sharpness levels are on point. I did not detect any instances of banding, but there were a few scenes that looked a little washed out – those were few and far between, though. It does not negate the fact that Lawless looks bloody awesome on Blu-ray!

Audio

Lawless is presented in DTS HD-MA 5.1 lossless surround sound. Here’s a soundtrack that runs on all cylinders. Dialogue is expertly captured and crafted via the front center stage; the ambient channels capture the critters out in the woods along with the moonshiners crafting their libation out in the middle of nowhere. During scenes of violence the action gets amped up and the speaker system really makes one feel as if they were being fired upon by a tommy gun. Warren Ellis and Nick Cave composed the score for the film and it’s a doozy. It combines many musical elements; even the music used during some of the prayer scenes; the vocalization during those scenes is pretty amazing. Lawless sounds great on Blu-ray.

Extras

Lawless contains several extras consisting of audio commentaries by director John Hillcoat and author of the book Matt Bondurant (yes, he’s grandson of one of the Bondurant brothers depicted in the film), deleted scenes, and several featurettes chronicling the times of the bootlegger and chronicling Franklin County, West Virginia. The commentary is very interesting, but my main compliant would have to be the organization of the featurettes that talk about the time period. We get interviews from several historians and scholars, but what we don’t get is more archival material than the same 2-3 photos of the headline story printed in the newspaper back in the 30’s. It gets kind of dull when we keep seeing the same picture of the same people standing there over and over again. It’s like they used them in a loop. A Willie Nelson music video rounds out the special features.

  • Feature Commentary with Director John Hillcoat and Author Matt Bondurant
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The True Story of the The Wettest County in the World
  • Franklin County, VA: Then and Now
  • The Story of the Bondurant Family
  • Midnight RunWillie Nelson Music Video

Summary

I’m glad I didn’t give Lawless a pass. I did miss it in theaters, but was glad to have had the chance to see it on Blu-ray. Lawless is a straight up gangster flick in terms of characters and action, with a dash of slow burn nuances thrown in for good measure. It’s NOT dull whatsoever and the violence depicted is pretty hardcore. Everyone was spot on in their performances and the Blu-ray itself is amazing. Video and audio specifications are great, extras could have used a boost, but the overall product is above average. If you’re into gangster flicks then Lawless may just be one of the more unique gangster flicks of the year.

 

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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