John Hillcoat's Depression-era crime drama was released in the United States on August 29th 2012. Based on true events and set in 1931, the film charts the story of a violent conflict between the bootlegging Bondurant brothers and the merciless
Deputy Rakes and his men, who try to shut down the brothers' moonshine business after they refuse to pay off local law enforcement. Beautifully shot with strong performances throughout, critics generally responded positively to the film, which
made almost $58 million against its $26 million budget. In the United States, Lawless was released with an R rating from the MPAA, for:
"Strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity."
However, the version of the film that was released in the States was a slightly censored version, which slightly trimmed some violence in five key scenes. In this edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be taking a look at the footage that was cut from
Lawless in order to achieve an R rating from the MPAA. In order to understand the context of the changes made to Lawless, it may help to be aware of how the MPAA works. In general, the MPAA will shy away from demanding specific changes to a film,
lest they be accused of censorship. Instead, the ratings board will cite specific scenes as being too strong or, more commonly, refer to the cumulative effect of violent or sexual content in a particular film. The idea is to give a director a
rough idea of any objectionable content and allow him or her to make changes that they feel will address the MPAA's concerns. It's not known how specific the MPAA were in citing objectionable footage in the original cut of Lawless, but it is
interesting to see what changes John Hillcoat made to the film to get his R rating.
US cuts for an MPAA R rating
Cut Scenes: Shootng a pig
The first change occurs during the opening of the film, showing the Bondurant brothers as children. The uncut version explicitly shows one of the brothers shooting a pig in the head and the animal collapsing to the floor, but the R rated
version moves this event off-screen and substitutes a singular close-up shot of the gun being fired to cover the missing footage.
Cut Scenes: Beating up Jack
The second changes occurs around 30 minutes later, as the corrupt officer Rakes beats up Jack Bondurant. The changes are extremely minimal, slightly reducing the main part of the attack on Jack from seven blows to six. To the average viewer,
it's likely that no difference would be discernible between the two versions, with this change arguably being making no difference to the strength of the sequence.
Cut Scenes: Throat slashing
Around 15 minutes later, Forrest Bondurant is attacked by two men after Forrest throws them out of his establishment. One of the men grabs Forrest's hands, whilst the other hacks away at his throat, before Forrest falls to the floor bleeding.
The uncut version is about two and a half seconds longer than the R rated version, slightly extending the protracted act of violence. The R version also reduces the first few frames showing the clear sight of the neck wound on Forrest's neck
before he presses his hands to it (within which actor Tom Hardy is clearly concealing the fake blood which soon oozes from between his fingers).
Cut Scenes: Castration
A little while later, after Forrest has recovered from his attack, he tracks down the men responsible for his maiming and exacts his revenge. His brother Jack shows up in the middle of the carnage, where he comes across one man bound to a
chair and gagged whilst the other lies on the floor with his testicles removed. The R rated version removes around three seconds of footage showing slightly more sight of Forrest's bloody hand as he stands amongst the bodies, as well as the
brief sight of the prostrate man's castrated body lying on the floor.
The above images have been slightly brightened for clarity
Cut Scenes: Climactic Shootout
The final cuts made to the film occur during the climactic shootout between Rakes and the Bondurant boys. One man is shot whilst sitting in a car, with sight of blood spraying out of his neck and onto the windshield as he topples over. The R
rated version trims two shots by a total of a second or so; again, an arguably pointless cut.
After it screened in American theaters, the R rated version was later released on DVD and Blu-ray. In a frustrating turn of events, with unrated versions of many other films being released on a regular basis, the uncut version of Lawless was not
made available in the United States. However, it was released internationally in other countries. One such international version that we checked first-hand and can confirm as being uncut is the Canadian Blu-ray release, although the BBFCinsight
for the UK version on the BBFC website seems to suggest that this version is also uncut. However, at the time we went to print, we had not verified that this was the case.
Regardless, American fans of the film who want to own an uncut version that can play in their Region A players can therefore import the Canadian Blu-ray, which is Region A encoded and will play without issue.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Four, Episode 51 Lawless
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All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.