Wednesday, August 29, 2012
A piece of Franklin County's history as "The Moonshine Capital of the World" is front and center around the country today as the film "Lawless" opens. Based on Matt Bondurant's fictional book, "The Wettest County in the World," the film is promoted as an "epic gangster tale, inspired by true-life tales." In other words, don't count on very much historical accuracy.
But according to critics who have reviewed the movie, which is rated "R," audiences can count on a lot of violence. After all, it is a gangster movie set during a notoriously gangster era in this country -- Prohibition (1920s and early 1930s). It was during that time names like Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow made headlines. And most of us have probably seen all of the above portrayed in various films, some good, some bad, but most relying more on sensationalism than accuracy.
Keep in mind that movies are made primarily for one purpose -- to make money. Obviously, the more audience-pleasing they are, the more money they will make. That's why we can probably expect a considerable dose of action (violence), which has always been a big audience draw. We urge parents to keep this in mind when making a decision on whether to allow their children to see "Lawless."
Most residents of Franklin County take a certain degree of pride in the area's moonshining history. It was often a matter of being independent, anti-government, and it was a way to make a living in an otherwise unforgiving economic climate. In fact, big money was made, especially during Prohibition, and that always leads to corruption, as evidenced in "The Great Conspiracy Trial of 1935," chronicled in the late Kiester Greer's non-fiction book.
Of course, making liquor was far more widespread than in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. It's just that Franklin County residents were prolific, to the point a reputation was developed over the years and the corruption that surfaced during the 1935 trial garnered attention around the country.
It's clear that such corruption is one of the themes of "Lawless," but whether the independent spirit that county residents take pride in is adequately portrayed in the film, well, we'll see. Please remember, though, this is the Hollywood treatment of a book, and that means the entertainment value will trump anything else.
The movie has, though, received generally favorable reviews. On rottentomatoes.com, an online compilation of reviews by film critics across the country, 74 percent gave the movie a good review as of Aug. 28. What may be more telling as far as an indication of the popular success of the film is a poll of moviegoers gauging their interest in the movie -- 96 percent said they want to see it.
As one New York critic said of the film, "Watch this one, Mayor Bloomberg. If you succeed in prohibiting 32-ounce sodas in New York, our city could turn into the Franklin County of 1931."
Even New Yorkers have limits when it comes to government interference.