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In Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a trio of bootlegging brothers are threatened by authorities angling for a cut of their profits, including a sadistic and vain special deputy from Chicago.
For more about Lawless and the Lawless Blu-ray release, see Lawless Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 26, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Shia LaBeouf
Director: John Hillcoat
» See full cast & crew
Lawless Blu-ray Review
When crooks clash.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 26, 2012
We can't never die.
Bootlegging's a wet business, and that's not just a reference to the liquor. For every pint of the stuff produced in Lawless, there's about a gallon of blood spilled. That's not a very good ratio, not a ringing endorsement of prohibition, and certainly not very good for business. Lawless tells the story of Virginia mountain moonshiners at the height of prohibition, sharing the bloody details of their relationships, their business dealings, and the violence that followed them with every jar produced and each liter sold. The movie angles to ascend above typical era drivel that's shaped more by an excesses of gunfire than well-defined characters. The movie largely succeeds. It plays with an evident sense of authenticity -- which includes an abundance of plot-driven violence offset by a slight bit of humor -- that allows viewers to saturate themselves not in the handmade liquor but within the boundaries of one of the most dangerous and fascinating eras of 20th century American history.
Franklin County, Virginia -- "the wettest county in the world" -- is known for its thriving moonshine business at the peak of prohibition. Picturesque mountain vistas at dusk are dotted by cooking fires all across the landscape, but one family, the Bondurant's, owns the Franklin County underground liquor business. Brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke) run a legit bar by day but produce the county's best moonshine behind the scenes. They hire on a Chicago gal named Maggie (Jessica Chastain) to tend bar and lure in more customers. The brothers -- and the other moonshiners in Franklin -- are confronted by a gentleman named Rakes (Guy Pearce) who wants a cut of their moonshine profits. The other distillers succumb to his demands, but the Bondurant boys prove a bit more obstinate. As Jack forges a relationship with local preacher's daughter Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), violence between his family and Rakes' outfit intensifies, creating a downward spiral of hate and bloodshed that cannot end well for either side that both operate on the wrong side of the law.
Director John Hillcoat's (The Road) Lawless manages to blend together all of the necessary ingredients for a well-rounded and captivating period Drama/Action film. Into the still goes flavorful characters, robust violence, a dash of humor, and even a hint of spicy romance. While the result may not be 200 proof, the film hits hard, flows well, and goes down easy. Even as the film devolves into something of a "revenge" picture between two warring factions in its final act, Lawless tackles what could have been a rather lazy way out of the movie with an honesty and brutality that forgoes cinema convention and just plain shows the audience all of the violence, not overly stylizing it or playing it through slow motion movements or accompanied by an obnoxiously big score. The film remains grounded through its entirety, whether those epically violent moments or the humorous breaks in the drama and action. It's that balance of genuine authenticity that makes the movie tick; so often pictures of this sort seem content to recreate a period rather than inhabit a period. Lawless does the latter, and it does it through a convincing character roster and top-flight performances.
The people of Lawless fit into the story and ambiance with uncanny realism. From mountain moonshiners to city gangsters, the film finds itself populated by a plethora of healthy, believable characters who all play a part in not just shaping and telling the story, but solidifying its world. Of course, creating "authentic" characters is a matter of interpretation for a film of this era, but the important thing is that Lawless so effortlessly takes its audience into the Virginia moonshine business through its character roster of individuals who look and act the parts with as much accuracy as they can muster, from script to costume. The trio of Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke settle into their parts quickly and believably; the sense of family, business, and toughness shines through from the outset, and the portrayals give an honest recreation of confident people involved in a dangerous business. The actors distinguish the characters through their own arcs as well, with LaBeouf's perhaps the most relatable as the plot unfolds and wraps him into darkness. Guy Pearce undergoes a striking physical transformation for the part of Bondurant family nemesis; it's quite effective and nearly enough alone in painting Rakes as a viciously creepy period villain, never mind his grasp of actions and mannerisms that separate him as a genuinely awful individual (but great movie character). The remainder of the cast is quite good, too, shaping Lawless into one of the year's must-see films with one of the finest ensembles of 2012.
Lawless Blu-ray, Video Quality
Lawless looks great on Blu-ray. The film opens with a beautiful overhead of fall foliage, offering an impressive array of Virginia colors and also pinpoint details and sharpness even at some distance from the treetops. The detail and color excellence continues throughout. Old storefronts, period clothes, muddy cars, grasses, dirt roads, and pretty much every other element within the movie shines. There's a wonderful crispness to the image, bringing the period reconstruction to life with surprisingly little effort. Colors, likewise, enjoy striking balance, even as the film dabbles primarily in tans and grays and browns and other rustic hues. Splashes of brighter shades on clothes, hair, lipsticks, and the like enjoy dazzling brilliance and natural balance. Skin textures appear accurate, while black levels are precise and deep with no signs of crush or paleness. There are a handful of slightly softer shots and a touch of banding, primarily around bright light sources in poorly lit surroundings, but the transfer is otherwise proficient and clear. This is another first-rate new release image from Anchor Bay.
Lawless Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lawless' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack does the film justice. The only real gripe with the presentation is that gunfire never finds much of a heavy, energetic presence. Clarity is fine but listeners won't find themselves ducking for cover even during the most intensive shootouts. Otherwise, the track offers a big, wide, enveloping stage in which it plays heartily and with much precision. Thunder rolls nicely about, cars rattle on through, and other ambient effects are handled with generous spacing and accuracy. Indeed, the track handles both the most sonically intensive and minimal ambient effects with equal care, placing the listener in the midst of prohibition-era Virginia with ease (other than the puny gunfire, of course). Music plays smoothly and accurately, whether score or robust period dance music. Dialogue plays clearly and evenly from the center channel. This is a hearty, well crafted soundtrack that could use a little finish on the gunfire but that otherwise impresses a great deal in every other area of concern.
Lawless Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lawless contains a handful of on-disc supplemental features, headlined by an audio commentary track. DVD and iTunes digital copies are also included in the set.
Lawless Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Lawless seems to nail its period recreation, and not just through sets and costumes. The actors live the time and violence with striking precision. The story doesn't necessarily make for the end-all, be-all of Gangster/Prohibition period films, but it does everything very well and nothing poorly. The movie feels a hair overlong but at the same time it never drags too much. It effectively blends its drama with sometimes hideous violence and subtle humor, making for one of 2012's better and must-see films. Lawless' Blu-ray release features high quality video and audio. A nice little collection of extras is included. Recommended.
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Lawless Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: November 27-December 4 - November 24, 2012
In terms of volume alone, the week of November 27th doesn't offer that many new Blu-ray releases, but there are definitely some gems within this limited selection. Case in point: Anchor Bay's version Lawless disc. An adaptation of Matt Bondurant's historical ...
• Lawless Blu-ray - October 1, 2012
Anchor Bay Home Entertainment will release a combo pack edition of director John Hillcoat's Lawless (2012), starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, and Gary Oldman. The release will be available for purchase on November 27th.
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