Lawless (Blu-ray) (2012)

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Released 20-Feb-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama Featurette-(21:33) The True Story of the Wettest County in the World
Featurette-(6:12) Franklin Country, VA : Then and Now
Featurette-(12:44) The Story of the Bondurant Family
Deleted Scenes-(8:34) Six short scenes.
Music Video-(1:40) Willie Nelson's "Midnight Run"
Audio Commentary-Feature length with director and author of novel
Theatrical Trailer-End of Watch
Theatrical Trailer-The Master
Theatrical Trailer-The Intouchables
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2012
Running Time 115:47
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Hillcoat
Studio
Distributor
Filmation
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Shia LaBeouf
Tom Hardy
Jason Clarke
Guy Pearce
Jessica Chastain
Mia Wasikowska
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music Nick Cave
Warren Ellis


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Title appears at 7:31

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     The new film from Queensland born and Canadian bred John Hillcoat is Lawless. In 2009 Hillcoat directed The Road, with a screenplay from Nick Cave, and the two have worked together again on this new film. There is so much to admire in Lawless, and the opening of the film, and the look and the performances, build anticipation that this could be a new gangster classic, rather like a Bonnie and Clyde for present day audiences. Unfortunately Lawless does not reach the heights of Arthur Penn's superb film, but nevertheless Hillcoat's offering cannot be dismissed. This is a film of many pleasures, but in the end the whole is not as good as some of its parts.

     Nick Cave's screenplay is based on the 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World written by Matt Bondevant. In his book the author tells the story of his family during the days of Prohibition in 1930s United States. It was in 1919 that the law prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol or alcoholic beverages in the United States. This law remained in place for fourteen years until it was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution, just two years after the action of this film.

     It is 1931 in rural Virginia where, in Franklin County, the Bondevants, a family of three brothers, produce, transport and sell moonshine liquor. While it was the individual local inhabitants who brought the product to market, as it were, widespread distribution was under the control of organized crime. The three Franklin brothers are Jack Bondevant, the youngest and the author's grandfather, played here by Shia LaBeouf (Disturbia), and the author's two great uncles, Forrest , here a burly Tom Hardy (Bronson / This Means War) and Howard, portrayed by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty). The Bondevants are running their successful moonshine enterprise with the assistance of a young friend, Cricket Pate (Dane HeHaan), a simple, gentle soul who has a disabling limp. As a front for their illegal activities, the boys run a service station cum diner. One day a mobster sweeps impressively into town. It is Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), who summarily shoots a competitor and in the process Banner and Jack exchange looks. Banner's car roars out of town, Banner knowing that Jack knows who is responsible for the unceremonious slaying. Meanwhile Forrest hires Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), a "dancer" on the run from Chicago, to be their new waitress. Into the town comes the devil incarnate, Special Deputy Charley Rakes (Guy Pearce) demanding a cut of all the county's bootleg profits. There has also been an earlier confrontation between Rakes and Maggie before she left Chicago. Forrest rejects Rakes' proposal and threatens to kill Rakes if he returns. Meanwhile Jack has met Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), the daughter of the local Brethren preacher, and the inexperienced young man is smitten. When Jack attends a Brethren church service his behaviour alienates the girl's father who forbids Jack to have any future contact with Bertha. So, all of our major players are in place, with characters firmly established, and the conflicts, which are to be the substance of the story, are set in motion. Things are looking good, possibly great, and we are ready for a superior movie experience.

     What goes wrong, for me at least, is that the ingredients are there in the story and the characters, but they are not always emphasised or explored on the screen. Perhaps the problem is that there are too many ingredients. The film tries to make social comment, with characters at times behaving more like symbols than real people. It is a coming-of-age story, a dual love story, a gangster movie, and there are elements of the western. There are the two love stories, with LaBeouf and Wasikowska seeming to strive for a Friendly Persuasion lyricism. Perhaps it needed a great director, like that film's William Wyler, to make a coherent drama from all of these strands. Here the impression is that many moments are inspired by moments seen in other movies, and there is no disciplined force guiding the film in one direction. Gary Oldman's entrance early in the film is indeed very dramatic, yet his character disappears from the narrative for a huge chunk of the film. This seems to be a strange dramatic choice. Adherence to the truth of the events cannot be a defence, as the filmmakers made changes to the book, including the homosexual overtones of the Guy Pearce character. This sexual subtext actually becomes a bit of a red herring as the plot progresses. Without spoiling any plot point, some things happen that we don't see, but find about later in the dialogue. Some action is forewarned in cinematic terms, and then doesn't happen. These are obviously choices of the writer and the director, but the characters and their interaction do not have the impact they would have if we were given all the facts and not misled. At other times crucial action takes place off screen, and what has just occurred is announced when characters reappear. The climactic shoot out is also badly stage managed. The scene is not one of chaos, it actually is very structured, but its dramatic depiction is unfocussed, and, when we should be totally invested in what is happening on screen, we are distanced by the way it is portrayed. After an excellent first half hour the dramatic line of the film has become blurred and unsure, and the dramatic impact is reduced.

     Apart from these damaging choices made by the writer and/or the director, there is so very much to admire on the screen. The setting is excellent, both the rustic locales and the interiors, with exemplary widescreen photography from Benoit Delhomme (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) that provides an unending stream of arresting and beautiful images. The photography is the outstanding feature of this film. Nick Cave and fellow Australian Warren Ellis worked together on The Proposition - which also starred Guy Pearce - and the pair here give the film a diverse musical score that reflects the setting, the characters and the period. Incorporated is an eclectic mix of performances by contemporary country stars, such as Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson, are given a flavour of the period of the film and are seamlessly integrated into the action. The cast is large and the performances are nigh faultless - even if some of the males have a tendency to mumble. Interestingly Tom Hardy's diction seemed sharper in the feature footage used in the featurettes on the disc, so maybe the "mumbling" was another choice, made during post production. Despite some mumbling, the males in the cast are very strong, and the two leading ladies are exquisitely beautiful, with Jessica Chastain looking like a fragile Dresden doll.

     Do not miss this film. It is a superior crime drama, with a strong story, colourful settings and a talented cast. Some of the aspects of the film are so very good that it makes us look at the whole and ask: why hasn't this worked as well as it should have? I should have been immersed and totally involved in the fate of the Bondurant boys. Instead I found myself sitting back and analysing what I had just seen. Nevertheless, it's a well-made movie telling a genuinely interesting story., and it looks and sounds tremendous on this Blu-ray release.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Lawless is flawless visually and is given an excellent Blu-ray transfer. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1, the original aspect ratio.

     The film is crammed with gorgeous visuals from the lovely rustic backroads, the golden darkly lit interiors, the small country town, the cars of the period, and the beauty of the two female stars. Everything is captured in great detail, from every pore and blemish on actors' faces, even feet, to the leaves on the trees, the textures of the clothing and Jessica Chastain's eyelashes. The detail remains excellent in darker scenes, such as the sequences in the timber bridge. The colour is excellent, though I would prefer less dominance of browns and oranges in some scenes. Primarily though the colour palette is wide but subtle and delicate, with excellent skin tones. Don't expect colours to be popping off the screen. There are no neons or epic vistas, but there are images that are some of the most striking seen in years.

     The transfer is artefact free.

     There are English Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired (white only and centred at the foot of the screen) which were sampled and found to be excellent.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are three audio streams; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded with audio commentary and English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround Encoded with narration for the vision impaired.

     The transfer is given a soundtrack to match the visuals. The dialogue is basically front and centred, with a minimum of movement. I do have reservations about a few moments when Tom Hardy's dialogue was difficult to understand.. Although the characters may not be articulate, what is the point of dialogue if we can't understand it? That complaint aside, the soundtrack is rich and full, with the sound field filled with movement and action, sometimes subtle and at other times boisterous and loud. The engines of the period cars throb, leaves rustle, birds sing, whisky swills, streams gurgle, bullets fly, fists whack and bones crunch. There is movement galore, both across the front and in the surrounds. In the scenes where it is required the LFX track kicks in with a wallop. The music is also given the full surround treatment and the mix of dialogue, effects and music is superbly handled.

     The Descriptive Narration for the Vision Impaired is delivered by a youngish male voice. (It occurs to me that I have never heard one of these narrations actually identify by name the actor as he or she appears on the screen. If I was a blind movie fan I think I would want that information.)

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The disc has approximately 50 minutes of featurettes directly related to the movie, plus a feature length commentary. At start-up there are theatrical trailers, in high definition and 1.85:1, for End of Watch, The Master and The Intouchables.

Menu

     The menu screen has a still of the stars on the right hand side of the screen. The left hand side is split, with a live montage of scenes occupying the top quarter and the menu details the lower. A plaintive musical theme from the film plays behind all menu functions.

Featurette : The True Story of the Wettest County in the World (21:33)

     The first featurette begins well, but does become the usual wallow in mutual praise - though here it is fairly deserved. Presented 1080p, with a mixture of widescreen for the excerpts from the film and 1.85:1 for interview and behind-the-camera footage, it is excellent quality. In interviews we see all the stars, the screenwriter, the director, two of the producers, the book's author, Matt Bondurant, plus the son and grandson of Jack Bondurant, Shia LaBeouf's character. There is a brief, interesting and informative account of Prohibition, which uses archival photographs and some newsreel footage. The "new gold rush in West Virginia" is described and the evolution of the dominance of the crime bosses, such as Al Capone.The second half does deteriorate into the usual backslapping, but there is enough here to make a viewing very worthwhile.

Featurette : Franklin County, VA : Then and Now (6:12)

     Two of Franklin County's present day intellectuals are most interesting teaching us a little about their area, and its involvement with the production of bootleg whiskey. Charles D. Thompson, author, and Roddy Moore, of the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, look at the historical origins of the family still. Coming from Ireland, where it is believed the term "moonshine" was first used, the home still was a part of European farming tradition. The economic collapse of the area after the American Civil War saw the destitute farmers turn to the production of whiskey, then fifty years later The Great Depression confronted the locals with the choice between bootlegging, illegal under Prohibition, or to leave for a life of labouring in the coal mines or the textile mills. Again 1080p, and with some eye pleasing scenes of the Franklin streams, icy cool and crystal clear, which provided the perfect base for distilled whiskey.

Featurette : The Story of the Bondurant Family (12:44)

     This one is only twelve minutes long but is totally fascinating. After a brief on-screen introduction, Matt Bondurant tells us how he built his historical novel from newspaper accounts and the few photographs he had of his predecessors, Jack and Bertha. We see the photographs as he explores the images, and also see the actual contemporary newspaper articles reporting the shooting at the bridge, the shooting which forms the basis of the finale of the film. With the superb clarity of 1080p high definition we are able to actually read the complete articles. This is terrific stuff.

Deleted Scenes (8:34)

     Six short scenes presented in quality comparable to that of the film itself.

Music Video (1:40)

     Presented at the ratio of 2.35:1 and 1080p we have Willie Nelson's Midnight Run. There is one flash of a black and white still of Nelson, as well as a few seconds of him in black and white footage. Apart from that the video is comprised of a furiously edited montage of scenes from the film.

Audio Commentary

     This feature length commentary with director John Hillcoat and author Matt Bondurant begins with the author acknowledging that his work, on which the film is based, was a "fictionalized reimagining". The culture of bootlegging and the extent of community involvement - estimated to have been 90% of the Franklin County inhabitants - is discussed. (The entire commentary is tied strongly to the film as it progresses. When the title of the film appears at 7:31 there is an interesting digression regarding the change from the book's title to Lawless.) The commentary benefits from having the two contributors coming from two different perspectives, one from that of the book and the other the movie. Hillcoat gives some interesting comments on the shoot of the film, the actors and their performances and decisions the filmmakers made, such as switching Rakes from being a local to coming from the city, while Bondurant adds material regarding the creation of his historical novel. It is a superior commentary, and many of the comments by John Hillcoat reinforce my view that he is more concerned with recreating scenes and images from earlier films he has loved - Edward G. Robinson, Cagney, Deliverance - than in an honest, artistic interpretation of the screenplay he is actually filming. He is a good filmmaker, and perhaps he will find his own screen voice one day.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The local release is the same is the U.S. version, though we do miss out on:
    * Digital Copy
    * Spanish Subtitles.

Summary

     This is a superior crime drama that tells a gripping story, based on fact. The era of the 30s and Prohibition in the United States is beautifully depicted, performances are very strong, the photography is gorgeous, and the country music adds considerable flavour. No question about it being a good movie, but it "coulda been a contender". The Blu-ray transfer is amongst the best, with comparable audio. There is a very worthwhile small set of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, March 15, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Audio description - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
Audio description continued - Anonymous
Just a nitpick - Pearce