Jessica Chastain as: Maggie Beauford
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Screenplay by: Nick Cave
Adaptation: The Wettest County in the World (book) by Matt Bondurant
Selected Cast: Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, Guy Pierce
Running Time: 115min
Release Date: May 19, 2012 (Cannes)
Wide Release: August 29, 2012
Genre: Crime, Drama
Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a trio of bootlegging brothers are threatened by a new special deputy and other authorities angling for a cut of their profits.
Matt Bondurant wrote the historical novel The Wettest County in the World based on the Prohibition-era bootlegging activities of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his grand uncles Forrest and Howard. Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave, who had worked together on the Western film The Proposition, were attracted to the story.
The first actor to be cast was Shia LaBeouf as Jack, the youngest Bondurant brother. James Franco was attached to play Howard and Ryan Gosling was attached to play Forrest; Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson were also attached to the project. Originally titled The Wettest County in The World like the book, the film’s title was changed to The Promised Land. Although Hillcoat intended to begin shooting in February 2010, in January the project was reported to have fallen apart due to financing problems. Only LaBeouf remained with the project. He said that after he saw Bronson (2008), “I went home and wrote Tom [Hardy] a letter saying I was a fan. He sent me a script, and I sent him Lawless. He called me back and said, ‘This is fucking amazing.'” Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme recommended Jessica Chastain to Hillcoat. Chastain said, “I am a big fan of The Proposition. I hadn’t even read the script, but I told [Hillcoat], ‘If you cast me, I’ll do it.’ I approach every role in terms of: ‘Have I done this before? Is it something I’m repeating?’ Lawless offered a new opportunity.”
By December 2010, Hardy and Chastain were reported to have joined the project. Jason Clarke and Dane DeHaan were cast in January 2011. Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, and Mia Wasikowska joined the cast in February 2011.
Lawless was filmed early 2011 in various locations near Atlanta, Georgia, including Newnan, Grantville, Haralson, LaGrange, Carroll County’s McIntosh Park, and the Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge near Gay. The cast lived in apartments in Peachtree City for three months during production, and Hillcoat screened dailies for the cast every weekend.
In March 2011, Momentum Pictures and its parent company Alliance Films acquired the U.K. and Canadian distribution rights. In May 2011, the Weinstein Company bought the U.S. distribution rights, with plans for a wide release. In March 2012, the title was changed to Lawless.
Lawless screened In Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on May 19 and received a nearly 10-minute standing ovation. The film was theatrically released in the U.S. on Wednesday, August 29, 2012, as The Weinstein Company hoped that good word of mouth would be built up for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Audiences polled by the market research firm CinemaScore gave Lawless a B+ grade on average.