Matt Bondurant is the author of “The Wettest County in the World,” a fictional tale based on the real exploits of his grandfather, Jack, and his great uncles, Forrest and Howard. The siblings were notorious for their illegal operations, even going head to head with law enforcement. “Lawless” is the graphic and dramatic retelling of Bondurant’s 2008 novel about his family’s past, something he first learned about in his teens.
Bondurant describes the males in his family as men of few words, but the “stoic silence” about their pasts intrigued him. In reference to his relatives, he said, “You just don’t talk about it because back in the day, it would get you in trouble. A little part of it also is probably just because it was part of a criminal past. They didn’t want to air the family laundry.”
Nevertheless, Bondurant wanted to express the sensation and explore the story from a different perspective. He never experienced shame from his infamous last name, but writing about Bondurants and bootlegging garnered some nervousness. Although “Wettest County” is a novel, Bondurant still utilized historical archives — newspaper clippings, court transcripts — for background information. His father also began some genealogical research years ago, but Bondurant was mainly on his own. The entire process — research and writing — took him three years.
“In the book, I wanted to create a portrayal of people that were in a difficult time with difficult situations (who) made difficult decisions, bad decisions, but ultimately were just people trying to do the right thing,” he said. “That was the family I knew. We’re all responsible citizens.”
Luckily, reactions to the book were “near universally positive,” Bondurant said. With “Lawless” showing at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the author said the book will only gain higher visibility.
LaBeouf portrays Jack in the movie, who died in 1991. Bondurant was in his 20s and in college at the time of his grandfather’s death. He remembers Jack as a quiet man with a strong presence.
“He was the patriarch. He had a lot of respect, obviously in the family but also in the county,” Bondurant said. “I was too young to realize that this guy had a link to the past that is so foreign to us now. The life he led was really remarkable.”
Even with the sale of the film rights, Bondurant said director John Hillcoat consulted with him and his father, Andrew Jackson Bondurant Jr., and he was also able to talk with the actors. Technical details were not an issue for the author in regards to authenticity.
“Lawless” was filmed entirely in Georgia with Peachtree City, Gay and Haralson among the locations. As with many books adapted for film, there was some condensing, something Bondurant said he was prepared for. He has seen “Lawless” multiple times, and said filmmakers did a good job of retaining the spirit of the book, the three brothers and the historic time.
“The medium of film is limited to this kind of visual presentation. You don’t have the tools that a novelist does, so they have to simplify things and do it very quickly,” Bondurant said.
Bondurant’s latest novel is “The Night Swimmer,” a tragic love story set in Ireland. If he had a similar opportunity for a film adaptation, would he do it?
“Absolutely,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Lawless” also stars Guy Pearce, Gary Oldham and Jessica Chastain. The film is rated R. For more information about Bondurant, visit his website, http://mattbondurant.com