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Interview: John Hillcoat Talks The Top 5 Influences For His Prohibition-Era Gangster Movie 'Lawless'

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 28, 2012 at 11:00AM

This past summer, "Lawless," a gripping, based-on-a-true-story gangster movie from Australian director John Hillcoat, opened and closed without much fanfare, despite its uniformly excellent cast (included: Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Shia LeBeouf, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman) and the fact that it was a really terrific movie. Thankfully, if you missed it in the theaters, you have a second chance as "Lawless" debuts on Blu-ray, DVD and iTunes this week. To mark the occasion, we got to speak to Hillcoat about the top five films that influenced his thrilling film.
4
Prohibition" (Ken Burns,

3) "Prohibition" (Ken Burns, 2011)
For the rest of his influences, Hillcoat chose documentary films. The first of which didn't even air until Hillcoat was well underway with production on "Lawless." No matter. "The Ken Burns documentary came out as we were making 'Lawless' but I love the research that he did," Hillcoat said, reverentially, of the multi-part documentary that originally aired on PBS. "The footage was amazing."

documentary "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?

4) "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?" (Philippe Mora, 1975)
More directly making its mark was the documentary "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?," which is comprised almost entirely out of newsreel footage and film clips from the Great Depression, along with audio from the period as well (everyone from Walt Disney to John Dillinger to George Burns are featured). "It's a documentary that's just made up of newsreel footage from the time, plus radio from the era, and it was hugely influential," Hillcoat noted.

Public Enemies: The Golden Age Of the Gangster Film

5) "Public Enemies: The Golden Age Of the Gangster Film" (2008)
Somewhat surprising is Hillcoat's last selection, a documentary called 'Public Enemies' that was featured in one of Warner Bros' many gangster movie DVD box sets and narrated by Alec Baldwin. "This documentary charted the Warner Bros. gangster film all the way up to 'GoodFellas,'" the director said. Hillcoat was obviously playing with truth and myth in "Lawless," and how the two intersect and diverge, and Martin Scorsese's flim was one Hillcoat looked to.

"What was so amazing and inspiring about 'GoodFellas' was that it showed the foot soldiers; the people more at the bottom as opposed to focusing on the godfathers and the guys at the top," Hillcoat said. "It was so masterful and brilliant in its depiction of violence and in the way that it showed, very different from us, a world – the music, the suits, the culture. 'GoodFellas' is kind of the ultimate gangster film in the sense that you really understand that world that you're entering into – why do guys enter into that world and what it's like to see it from the outsider and insider's perspective." Hillcoat then detailed the ways in which "GoodFellas" and "Lawless" are similar, in terms of the richness of their respective "worlds." "It's all about the family, the suits, the music, and the food," Hillcoat said. "Whereas in our world it's about the music, the way that country/bluegrass is literally like the white man's blues. It was all those things."

"Lawless" is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and iTunes.

This article is related to: Lawless, John Hillcoat, Features, Feature, Interviews


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