Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Tom Hardy, and Guy Pearce, the film tells the story of the three Bondurant brothers who operate a lucrative moonshine business during Prohibition in the woods of Virginia.
Based on the novel "The Wettest County in the World," it's a "wangster movie," jokes Guy Pearce, who plays the film’s villain, explaining how the movie mixes both the gangster and western genres.
"This is the 'Walton's' on acid," agrees Tom Hardy. He plays Forrest Bondurant, the leader of the three brothers who believes he’s invincible.
Hardy, who will soon be causing a splash as super villain Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," had an unusual take on his tough guy character for this film.
"Forrest is a matriarch and not a patriarch," he said. "In order for him to be a badass that is different from other tough guys, I had to rethink the formula. I would love him to be Clint Eastwood. I'm never going to be Clint Eastwood. I'm me. They want me to be a tough guy, and I want to be an old woman, so I have to be the mother and weave this in."
With an older brother back from war with post traumatic stress syndrome (Jason Clarke) and a young brother who never knew his parents (Shia LaBoeuf), Hardy's Forrest has to be there to "clean, cook, wear the apron and stash the money." Of course, he also beats people up, has his throat slit and takes on corrupt cops without uttering more than a few grunts.
Pearce's character, on the other hand, is a dandy from Chicago with shaved eyebrows and dyed hair that would make any small child scream.
"It was just a representation of his vanity, I guess, vanity gone a bit wrong," Pearce said about his character's appearance. "I just think he has an issue with hair and filth. There was a strangeness to this character that was necessary, that existed in the script. There was a vanity and a sort of self-obsessed quality, an ego that was a bit out of control.”
As outlandish and wonderful as the characters are, the movie is more than a character study. According to Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave, the film is a relevant commentary on the state of Western civilization and how Prohibition relates to today's war on drugs and the economic crisis.
While everyone might not agree with that comparison, the economy was a big factor in the film’s production. Originally optioned by Sony, the studio decided not to make the film, which is why it went the independent route.
"There was a recession going on, and their thinking was 'we don't want to make a film about a depression during a depression," Cave said.
"I wanted to make a gangster film," Hillcoat continued. "At that point, this was before 'True Grit,' everyone was saying westerns are just absolute poison, will only die at the box office. But they were saying, if you set it in the city, we'll green light it. It's just that this thing was a little unfamiliar, and that's what I loved about it - that it was looking at what was going on in the country."
Not only does the film look at the world, it also gives an intimate look at violence.
"The thing is when you do deal with violence, in some way people look at violence as if it's something unnatural to talk about, that it's something that actually isn't a part of us," Cave said. "My take, and I think John's take on violence, is that violence is a fundamental part of our character that lives within us all…We have a huge potential for violence given the right or wrong circumstance. To me, it's a very natural thing to be writing about."
Dane DeHaan, who plays supporting character Cricket, called the violence in the movie "beautiful," but for Hillcoat, it was all about being quick and exploring the effects.
"What was very special was the different tonal qualities of this story," Hillcoat said. "But it's also all born out of conflict. I'm very interested in exploring [the violence] from the aftermath really. That's why it's so quick and messy. It's really the buildup and the aftermath that I'm interested in."
And the aftermath of this film promises to be exciting. Scheduled for an August release in the States, "Lawless" is sure to be a hit with everyone who's a sucker for some good old-fashioned bloody Americana.
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