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Franklin County moonshine history depicted in movie
'Lawless' opens in theaters on Wednesday
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Shia LeBeouf, foreground, plays Jack Bondurant, the youngest of the three Franklin County moonshining brothers in the film "Lawless," which opens Wednesday nationwide. (Weinstein Company photo)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Franklin News-Post

Franklin County’s moonshine past gets national attention in the new movie “Lawless,” which opens Wednesday at more 2,200 theaters across the country.

The movie is based on Matt Bondurant’s book, “The Wettest County in the World,” chronicling a Prohibition-era conflict between bootleggers and corrupt authorities in Franklin County.

Although the book is fiction, it is based on the lives of Bondurant’s grandfather and his two brothers who made moonshine in the county, which has long been described as “The Moonshine Capital of the World.”

Matt Bondurant, a native of Northern Virginia. is a creative writing professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

He visited his grandfather, Jack Bondurant, in Snow Creek during the summer when he was growing up, Matt Bondurant said during a stop here in 2008. During those visits he heard the stories about moonshining in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Those stories became the basis for his book, and much of the action centers around moonshiners paying “protection money” to local authorities who then allowed them to continue their work.

The moonshine operations were safe for those who cooperated, and they were guaranteed that their loads of “white lightning” would not be touched in the county.

In the novel, brothers Howard, Forrest and Jack Bondurant refuse to cooperate, and the brothers end up paying the consequences.

A stellar cast headlines the movie. It includes Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce and Mia Wasikowska.

Clarke, who plays Howard Bondurant in the movie, visited Franklin County in February 2011 to spend time with Bondurant family members and some Snow Creek residents to learn the local dialect. Clarke is Australian.

Filming, which was done mostly in northern Georgia, was completed last year and the Weinstein Company bought the U.S. distribution rights, resulting in many promotions (trailers) that have been airing on national television.

The film also was entered into the competition at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where it received mostly favorable reviews, placing 12th out of 20 international films submitted, according to the Cannes Film Festival website.

On the website, which features a compilation of film critics here and in other countries, “Lawless” has received a 70 percent favorable rating so far.

David Rooney, film critic for the Hollywood Reporter, writes: (The film is) fueled by a brooding sense of dread, visceral bursts of violence, potent atmosphere and some juicy character portraits from a robust cast.

The Weinstein Company’s promo says: “‘Lawless’ is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic gangster tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant’s family in his novel ‘The Wettest County in the World,’ the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation's most notorious crime wave.”

“Lawless” is rated “R,” mostly for violence.

Both the Eagle Cinema in Rocky Mount and Westlake Cinema at Westlake plan to show the film starting Wednesday.

“We've had a lot of interest expressed in some of the big movies released since the theater opened, but this movie, by far, has created the most interest,” said Eagle Cinema owner Ammie Brookes.

The film will not arrive in time for any advance showings, she said.


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