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'Lawless' Tells American Prohibition-Era Story

  • Alan Silverman

Shia Labeouf stars in 'Lawless' (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Shia Labeouf stars in 'Lawless' (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

HOLLYWOOD — Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain star in a new film that dramatizes the true story of a Virginia family in America's notorious Prohibition era.

The narrator in the movie Lawless is Jack Bondurant, the youngest of three brothers who ran a legendary illegal whiskey operation in Franklin County, Virginia 80 years ago.

From 1920 to 1933, federal law prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol for consumption in the United States. But Prohibition did not stop people from drinking. Criminals stepped up to meet their thirst.

Bootleggers made fortunes smuggling spirits in from other countries. Some, like the Bondurants, were "moonshiners" who had secret distilleries, run at night under the moonlight, thus making "moonshine" whiskey.

Author Matt Bondurant, Jack's grandson, based his novel The Wettest County In The World on the exploits that made his family folk heroes.

"My father remembers being a young boy riding in the back of his father's truck, packed in with all of these Mason jars full of moonshine. They would make deliveries of these clinking jars through town in the middle of the day," Bondurant says.

Shia LaBeouf plays cocky young Jack and says it helps that the story is based on real events and people.

"So if you know something has already happened, there is not a whole lot of 'whys' and 'hows' that go down. You just innately commit because it happened. So it does help with commitment," LaBeouf said.

Still of Tom Hardy in Lawless ( © 2011 The Weinstein Company)

Still of Tom Hardy in Lawless ( © 2011 The Weinstein Company)

Tom Hardy stars as Forrest, the oldest brother. The British actor says the often-violent character presents a paradox.

"How could somebody be so violent yet at the same time be intrinsically innocent and naive and have such a heart? [There is] the fulcrum in the middle [to create] somebody that, by the end of the film, I want an audience to have the ability to care about that person," Hardy said.

Australian director John Hillcoat says the grit and violence of the story are true to history. But he acknowledges this portrayal was influenced by how Hollywood has depicted the Prohibition era.

"Bonnie and Clyde was a big one, but it was more photographic and historical about the Appalachian area and the history …just to get under the skin of that world," Hillcoat says.

Rural locations in the U.S. state of Georgia double for Virginia of the 1930s. The cast also features Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman.