Professor's Book Becomes New Hollywood Film

Aug. 29, 2012

Dr. Matt Bondurant’s 2008 book, The Wettest County in the World, has made the leap to the big screen, and on Wednesday, Aug. 29, the film adaptation will open in theaters in a movie called, Lawless.

Bondurant has published two other novels, including The Night Swimmer and Bondurant’s first book, The Third Translation, which was an international bestseller, translated into 14 languages.

The film will star Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. It is directed by John Hillcoat, who also directed The Road.

Bondurant said he did not envision that his book would be made into a film.

“My first novel had been a moderate success, but film rights for this book were not even on the radar. But, early on Shia LaBeouf and John Hillcoat, the director, they liked it, they wanted it,” said Bondurant.

The story is set in Prohibition-era Virginia and is inspired by Bondurant’s grandfather and great-­uncles, the Bondurant Boys, who ran moonshine during the Great Depression.

Forrest (played by Tom Hardy) is fierce but also the consummate businessman. Howard (Jason Clarke), the eldest brother, is besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin County, Va.

Bondurant Cover

Bondurant’s 2008 book, The Wettest County in the World, was made into the movie "Lawless," which releases Wednesday.

The Bondurant Boys eventually face Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) from Chicago who cracks down on the bootleggers. The new “law” Rakes brings is lethal and corrupt and challenges everything the brothers have built.

“I thought one of the best aspects of the film was the care that went into capturing the milieu, background, period ambiance. I was taken with the details that were apparent in the background of almost every shot, but particulars of costuming, makeup, haircuts, clothing, automotive and armament specifics, all contributed to a sense of recapturing a period that is often very difficult to recreate credibly,” said Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing at UT Dallas, who got a sneak peek of the film at a private screening.

The independent studio Red Wagon Entertainment produced the movie. 

“The book was overflowing with moments of hard men and their softness; fierce, violent behavior intertwined with silent moments of desire and longing. You could not read the book without imagining performances,” said Red Wagon producer Douglas Wick.

Musician Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for the film. Bondurant says he is a fan of Cave’s work and was happy with how the script turned out.

“I’m proud of the fact that he retained a lot from the book: lines, dialogue, scenes. But, there are things that have been added in, too,” Bondurant said.

Bondurant Movie Still

Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain in Lawless.

“I knew my grandfather when I was a young man, but I certainly didn’t know him as an 18-year-old, so there’s a lot of artistic license that I took. I knew the movie would take that one step further, and that seemed natural.”

Despite the plot changes, the characters remain the same from book to film.

“It’s bizarre because they’re using the same names, so my grandfather is going to be up there. I often think if my grandfather and grandmother were alive, what they would think about Shia LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska playing them? It’s a very surreal experience,” Bondurant added.

The movie’s soundtrack, which includes original songs written by Cave, also features Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Ralph Stanley.

Bondurant will teach undergraduate and graduate creative writing and literature courses this semester.

“Dr. Bondurant’s example is important for our students. Many of us have these stories that we want to tell. But very few of us take the time to take that impulse seriously. Dr. Bondurant did the research necessary to flesh out the story – and studied his craft in order to tell the story in the best way possible. Once that story took life in the world – it captured the imagination of Hollywood. How fantastic is that!” said Dr. Susan Briante, who also teaches creative writing and literature at UT Dallas.


Media Contact: Chaz Lilly, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4461, charles.lilly@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.

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Bondurant Premier
Author and UT Dallas Professor Matt Bondurant will teach undergraduate and graduate creative writing and literature courses this semester.
 
Bondurant Movie
The story is set in Prohibition-era Virginia and was inspired by Bondurant’s grandfather and great-­uncles. The Bondurant Boys ran moonshine during the Great Depression.
 
Bondurant Still 1
Forrest (played by Tom Hardy, right) is fierce but also the consummate businessman. Jack (Shia LaBeouf, left), the youngest brother, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin County, Va.
 
Bondurant Still 2
Shia LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska play Bondurant's grandparents.

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