Blu-ray Review: Lawless

STUDIO: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay | DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat, | CAST: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf,  Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 11/27/2012 | PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99, DVD $29.98
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, deleted scene, music video
SPECS: R | 116 min. | Crime drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

With its solid if not stellar ensemble cast, an engaging based-on-fact story, and fine production details and period recreations, the Prohibition-era moonshine-soaked Lawless is one of the season’s most entertaining crime dramas.

Based upon the historical novel 2008 novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the film examines the story of the author’s family, led by his grandfather Jack Bondurant (Tom Hardy, This Means War) and grand-uncles (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’s Shia LeBeouf and Jason Clarke of TV’s The Chicago Code). In the 1920s, the Bondurants ran one of the country’s biggest moonshining operations from their home in the mountains of Virginia’s Franklin County, which didn’t go down well with the government, the local law enforcement, or the rival gangsters who all wanted a piece of the family’s alcohol-laced pie. The illegal flow of liquor also made its mark on the women in the Bondurants’ lives, including a one-time Chicago stripper (Jessica Chastain, The Help) and the local preacher’s daughter (Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre), who falls for the youngest Bondurant boy (LeBeouf).


Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain in Lawless.

Lawless is a good-looking film: The men all appear appropriately realistic and weary with their scruffy expressions and period garb, just as the women look appealing but not-too-fetching in their roles which are, gratifyingly, not gratuitous (though Chastain does deliver a topless turn). If anything took me out of the period accuracy, it was the range of Virginia accents that came out of ensemble’s  mouths (at least, I think they were Virginia accents!). Between the Bondurants, the women, and co-starring foreign-born actors Guy Pearce (Lockout) and  Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises), I didn’t hear any consistencies in the film’s on-so-regional-and-recognizable dialect. But the movie’s handsome production design, slow but steady pace and quite violent action sequences (featuring guns, knife and period cars) more than make up for the melting pot of accents.

There’s an adequate helping of bonus material included on the Lawless Blu-ray, led by a commentary by director Hillcoat and writer Bondurant. The two are at their best when they compare/contrast the real-life history of the Bondurant family versus the story that was put up on the screen. Biographical Hollywood films are the result of reality meeting cinematic illusion, and Hillcoat and Bondurant definitely understand that both filmmaking and truth-telling must bend for each other (or back away from each other!) in many instances for a movie’s production.

Other bonuses include a group of featurettes based on the realities behind the film, including looks at the historical period and its real-life characters, the history of Franklin county and the real-life Bondurant family.

Finally, there’s a Willie Nelson music video and a half-dozen deleted scenes that do just fine hanging out in the deleted scenes bin.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.