I HAVE ALWAYS wanted to make a Gangster movie. However like all genres, they need to be somehow reinvented, made fresh again. The source material came from a great book originally titled The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant that takes the most iconic American genres, the Western and the Gangster, and explores where one (the Western) ends and the other (the Gangster) begins. The true story of the Bondurant brothers arises out of the Western legends from their remote woods and portrays the next generation of country outlaws -- the men and women who gave birth to the big-time urban mobsters like Capone by servicing the Prohibition cities with their rot gut whisky. The book's family saga brought the 'hillbilly moonshiner' to life in an authentic, gritty, and exciting way. Fortunately my long-term collaborator and dear friend Nick Cave agreed to adapt the book into a screenplay.
Nick and I wanted to explore the ideas of the myths of immortality and the transition from one age to another with the brutality that accompanies such transitions. About the little guys, those foot soldiers and worker bees, the dealers at the bottom supplying the gangsters on the rise to the top, exploiting the thirst of a nation via a new ruthless machine that relentlessly pursued the American dream in what became crime's first major gold rush, the largest crime-wave in history.
We felt there were parallels to draw with our own times socio-economic, political, and -- with the dustbowl -- even environmental upheaval. To this day, one can draw parallels to more recent crime waves -- 'war on drugs' -- based upon the demand of outlawed substances.
We also wanted to capitalize upon the mythic allure of the backwoods life -- the raw music, the dry humor, and undiluted grit of the Southern Rebel character and in our movie draw out its dynamic mix of blues and country music; its mix of religious sects; the moonshine blockading that invented one of the country's most popular sports (NASCAR racing). And I was keen to find material that had more tonal range than my past work.
America's past is steeped in stories of liquor, taxes, blood, the rich vs the poor, and freedom. In 1768 John Hancock was accused of unloading illegal liquor from his ship 'Liberty' in Boston. The incident proved to be a major event in the coming American Revolution. Hancock became one of the founding fathers of America. The battle over taxes on liquor and on its ethics continued, reaching its peak with Prohibition 1920-1933. During this time Franklin County, Virginia was known as the 'wettest county in the world,' manufacturing the largest volume of illegal liquor. Like much of the country, it became lawless.
Violence is always born out of extreme conflict where there are never clear victors. It is murky and everyone becomes tainted by it and has to deal with the reality of its aftermath. We wanted to explore these consequences of violence -- show the real physical and psychological results. Juxtaposed are the two loves stories that gave us a real contrast and relief. Along with some welcomed moments of humour, despite the odds.
The Bondurants' visceral battle with immortality echoes as far back as The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Bondurants, after surviving so much, understandably felt immortal, invincible, like America itself once had. In the end by a simple twist of fate, we are reminded that no mortal is invincible, and as history shows, no nation or empire is either. But I hope this movie can perhaps offer these characters a small sliver of immortality once again.