on June 1, 2012
It is said that the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys made it so that one name cannot be said without the other. Starting at the end of the Civil War, and bringing the states of Kentucky and West Virginia close to a war of its own, the events of that bloody conflict have left their mark on American history. Now, the History Channel ventures into scripted drama for the first time with the miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys," an intense, character-driven film that looks at the price of feuding.
What really drives this four-hour plus film are the outstanding performances by the cast, which works from a powerfully-penned script. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton do brilliant work. You do not really "like" either character in the traditional sense of the word, but you definitely find them fascinating, and cannot help but enjoy the powerful work these two do. The supporting cast is fantastic as well, really finding the human drive behind these real-life characters.
The filmmakers have also done a brilliant job of bringing 19th Century Appalachia to life, through the beautiful cinematography, set design, and even the music of the period. John Debney and Tony Morales' score is haunting and wonderful to listen to when set to the imagery. Even though the film was shot in Romania, you cannot help but feel as if you are in the Tug River Valley of West Virginia/Kentucky in the mid to late-1800s.
Overall, "Hatfields & McCoys" is a brilliant, powerful and dramatic look at this dark time in the Appalachians, when a quarrel between two families escalated into a blood feud, with innocent lives taken down along with the guilty. If you love historical drama, westerns, or great film, then you are sure to enjoy this series!
on May 31, 2012
The History Channel miniseries "Hatfields and McCoys", directed by Kevin Reynolds and written by Ted Mann and Bill Kerby enjoyed brisk ratings this week. Thus far, this rendering of the epic struggle between two families living in West Virginia and Kentucky is the best one to date. That is not to say that it did not have many flaws. In general, I admired Ted Mann's work on the HBO series "Deadwood", where he created great dialogue for both fictional and real denizens of the South Dakota boom town. The characters in this miniseries also generally speak with a high level of intelligence with only a few hillbilly archetypes thrown in. The acting for this program is outstanding with a few exceptions. Most notably, Jena Malone gets my vote for the worst overacting in the part of Nancy McCoy. However, Powers Boothe, Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham and Bill Paxton all turn in solid performances. For his portrayal of "Uncle Jim" Vance, Tom Berenger is the standout in this cast. As with most Hollywood versions of significant historical events, the writers and filmmakers feel a need to change the truth to suit their plot development. This includes the requisite romantic elements and composite characters. With that latitude in mind, I still found the historical inaccuracies of this television movie to be staggering. Having performed extensive research on the real feud, I would like to point out a number of these for the perspective DVD buyer:
1) The show made a big point about Devil Anse taking unofficial leave from his Rebel Company D during the Civil War. Randolph McCoy also went on unofficial leave soon afterward. So there was no moral high ground there; nor do I know of any historical record stating this caused any ill will between the two men.
2) The show depicted major religious differences between Randolph and Devil Anse. I have never read anything stating religion played a strong part in the feud. However, economic jealousy did.
3) The hog trial was conducted in Deacon Anse's cabin in Raccoon Hollow; and not a regular court house in Mate County convened by Wall Hatfield.
4) Perry Cline was not counsel for the plaintiff during the hog trial.
5) Asa Harmon McCoy was not shot while hiding at a still. Ironically, this Union man owned a slave named Pete. Unfortunately, for Asa, Pete was followed to a cave by Logan County Regulars.
6) Bill Staton was not ambushed by Paris and Sam McCoy. In fact, it was the opposite, as Staton layed in wait for the McCoys. Sam was never convicted and was acquitted for murder on the grounds of self defense.
7) Randolph McCoy did not send his sons to retrieve Roseanna McCoy from the Hatfield cabin. He sent his three daughters. Therefore, Johnse Hatfield was never shot by the McCoy brothers.
8) Frank Phillips did not kill Tom Wallace. Larkin and Jacob McCoy probably did.
9) Wall Hatfield did not surrender himself to Pikeville authorities and was captured by Frank Phillips. Additionally, he was not the sympathetic character portrayed by Powers Boothe. He was an overpowering manipulator who had a strong lead role in the murders of Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy Junior.
10) Devil Anse and Wall Hatfield did not call for Sarah McCoy to come visit her sons before they were executed. She demanded to see her boys. Wall and Devil Anse blocked her entrance to the schoolhouse where her captive sons were being held. For nearly an hour, in the pouring rain, Sarah pressed the Hatfield brothers before they relented to a visit.
11) Perry Cline had a wife; and I have never read that he showed romantic interest in Roseanna McCoy.
12) Cap Hatfield wrote the famous letter to the newspapers asking for an abatement of hostilities, not Devil Anse. Though it looked very touching to show Devil Anse reading the letter to the clan.
My other criticism of this show, is though it has been described by critics as "atmospheric", I found it to be humorless and relentlessly grim. I know the producers had six hours to tell the story, but I believed there were many missed opportunities to show less violence and greater depth of character. Instead, most of the primary players were dislikable. The real Devil Anse was a remarkable man of extraordinary humor. There was great wrong done on both sides during this clan warfare; but these actions were carried out by complex people of both good and bad temperament. Finally, the fact that little was depicted about the tremendous court battles between Kentucky and West Virginia was I believe, another opportunity that was missed.
"Hatfields & McCoys.", a mini-series that aired on the History Channel in 2012, tells the story of the ongoing, nearly epic struggle between two families living in West Virginia and Kentucky in post-Civil War days. The show was a ratings winner, primarily because it has a script and production values more common in a feature-length, big-screen motion picture. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, it stars Kevin Costner as "Devil" Anse Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy, the patriarchs of the warring clans.
The escalating story of the feud is covered nicely, beginning with disputed logging rights and moving on to the theft of a pig, a series of minor slights and taunts by younger members of the clans, legal judgments deemed one-sided (the local judge was himself a Hatfield), and Hatfield's desertion from the Confederate army during the Civil War.
Spread over four and a half hours, the series explores the feud and its ramifications in detail and satisfyingly characterizes the many individuals who played a significant role. Director Reynolds does a first-rate job of bringing the era to life and showing how a romantic involvement between members of the two clans gave the feud a Romeo-and-Juliet air.
Costner and Paxton are both strong as the leaders and show how the ongoing hostility takes a toll on their health and marriages. After twenty years of hatred, distrust, and revenge, both men have become weary and long to end the feud with honor intact.
Standouts in the supporting cast are Powers Booth as Judge Valentine Hatfield, Boyd Holbrook as William "Cap" Hatfield, Mare Winningham as Sally McCoy, and Tom Berenger as Jim Vance, Devil Anse's uncle.
"Hatfields & McCoys" shows that, with the right project, audiences will flock to a mini-series, a genre once extremely popular on network TV and now pretty much the province of cable stations. Bonus extras on the two-disc Blu-ray edition include "The Making of Hatfields & McCoys" and the music video "I Know These Hills," featuring Kevin Costner.
on August 8, 2012
Hatfields & McCoys is the recent miniseries, headlined by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the patriarchs of the two clans, telling the story of the vendetta from the end of the Civil War to its conclusion in 1891. The two start out as young men, and we follow them through to old age in the series, along with their families and the various people who played a part in the events of the vendetta.
Devil Anse Hatfield (Costner) and Randolph McCoy (Paxton) are both soldiers in the Confederate army until Hatfield abandons the field to go home to the borderlands of Kentucky and West Virginia, to his wife Levicy (Sarah Parish). McCoy comes home to his wife Sarah "Sally" McCoy (Mare Winningham) at war's end to a world changed, where his brother Harmon has been killed by Jim Vance (Tom Berenger), an uncle to Devil Anse. This is what most consider to be the beginning of the feud, an act of anger over Harmon McCoy having had served as a Union Soldier.
The years go on. While the Hatfields seem to prosper with timbering in the area, Randall McCoy and his relations fall behind, and the unresolved death of one of their own festers in the McCoys. The theft of a pig and subsequent trial of a Hatfield more than a decade later creates more tensions between the families. The relationship of two of the children, Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) and Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher) makes things worse. Where Randall tries to use the law to air his grievances, Devil Anse is more likely to take the law into his own hands. On both sides, the tensions deepen, fighting breaks out, lives are broken, and people are killed as revenge becomes absolute. By the end of the feud, two families have been hit hard, the story has made national headlines, and two hardened enemies find themselves at a crossroads.
The miniseries does justice to the story, particularly with respect to what I've later read about the feud. It tries to be historically accurate, much more so than previous film or television versions of the story, which veered wildly off the rail. There are a few glitches- the historical record, for instance, is uncertain as to if Randall McCoy even fought in the Confederate Army, Costner and Paxton are roughly around the same age and in reality, Randall was older than Devil Anse, Roseanna McCoy was a blonde- but these are relatively minor. The filmmakers wanted to keep as close to the original narrative of history where possible, and the production values really pay attention to the finer details, in costuming, music, sets. While the filming itself was done in eastern Europe, the setting in the film ends up feeling very much like a place in the backwoods of America, like the Kentucky and West Virginia borderland must have been like.
The pacing of the story works well. It slowly builds up the tensions, conveying the events as they go along, bringing the feud to a boil, to the point where it finally explodes. We, the audience, can believe the animosity that we've seen growing in these characters. The casting, for the most part, works well. The exception would have to be Matt Barr and Lindsay Pulsipher, neither of whom have much in the way of gravitas for the parts. There are some who look at the story of these two as a Romeo and Juliet sort of story; I didn't sense that. To begin, there were already a number of Hatfields and McCoys marrying. And it felt more like Johnse Hatfield was an irresponsible, womanizing drunkard who threw away what might have been a good thing just by being himself. Barr doesn't bring much weight to the role, and seems more like he's channeling Ryan Gosling (a bad thing, since in my opinion, Gosling sleepwalks his way through every role he takes). Pulsipher as Roseanna is more or less the tragic character, doomed to a bad end, but she just doesn't feel like we should take her seriously.
Okay, that's the bad casting choices out of the way. Now the good, and there are a number of standout performances. Boyd Holbrook plays Cap Hatfield, another of Devil Anse's sons, and he gives the part a vindictive, ruthless streak, much like the original man might well have possessed. Jim Vance is the sort of sadistic, vicious pitbull that history seems to suggest he is, and Berenger perfectly plays those qualities. Powers Boothe, playing "Wall" Hatfield, an elder brother, gives the role a certain dignity and strength throughout. He's the voice of reason, reluctant to get involved in the feud, though the feud leads him to a bad end anyway. Andrew Howard plays a man named Bad Frank Phillips, a gun for hire brought in by the McCoys to go after the Hatfields, and though he's older than the actual man himself was, he plays the role with a vicious rattlesnake sort of quality, a thoroughly dangerous man.
There are several women in the cast who stand out. Jena Malone, who's been acting since childhood, plays a McCoy cousin, Nancy, who gets involved with Johnse after the breakdown of the relationship with her cousin. She brings a conniving, manipulative quality to the role, effectively playing both sides against each other, though her loyalties remain to her family. Sarah Parish as Devil Anse's wife Levicy is a voice of reason, drowned out by violence, watching her family tear itself apart for the sake of retribution. And Mare Winningham plays Sarah McCoy, one of the more tragic characters of the story, who loses most of her family, and ends up broken emotionally and physically. She too watches her family implode from within, her husband becoming increasingly bitter, and the performance is haunting.
It's the two leads in the cast that make it come together. They carry the weight of the series, and they do not disappoint. Bill Paxton is one of those actors who just gets better with age. He plays McCoy's gradual decline from a reasonable man into bitter anger, finally into a state where he's shattered by all that has happened to him. Randall McCoy spent the rest of his life in complaint, never really getting over the feud, the anger still festering in him, and Paxton perfectly conveys that. He's a man whose eyes are very expressive, and two emotions that come across that way throughout are pain and the notion of being haunted. He moves from being a man who believes in God and the law to becoming a man who has lost all that matters to him in the end, leaving him unhinged, deeply bitter, and cynical. Not unlike the real McCoy, who by all accounts came apart after the feud.
Costner too is an actor who, given the right role, really can shine. He plays mean and cruel very well, and Devil Anse certainly qualifies. There's a ruthless, calculating streak to the character, a stubborn quality that's not willing to let go of an argument. He also feels plausible as the leader of a large extended family, though the man himself was not the eldest in the clan; Costner carries enough dramatic weight that the audience can believe people around him would follow him. I was reminded of my favourite Costner film Wyatt Earp, where he plays the lawman as the driving force of a family, similarly moved to wage a personal war against people he deems the enemy. In Wyatt and in Devil Anse, there's something of the same mean streak. There's a darkness that particularly comes out at times in this series, to the point where he's willing to take extreme action against a member of his own family he thinks may have betrayed him.
There's a moment, late in the series, when the two come face to face again. It's a confrontation that's not quite what it seems. Costner and Paxton spar with each other in that scene, which really comes across as a crossroads. It also brings into question the issue of mental stability, but it perfectly conveys just how deeply the loathing had cut into both men. It might well be the pivotal moment of the entire series.
The series leaves us with questions. Are there any of these people we should feel sympathetic about? Yes. The women are, for the most part, more sympathetic than the men, which I think transfers as well over to the real story. They watched as their families destroyed themselves, as their men went to war with each other, as stubbornness and hatred dominated their actions. And they paid dearly for it. The series sheds light on this chapter in American history, reminding us of just how badly anger can dominate, can get out of control, and how hard the consequences of that can be. And in the end, it's compelling and entertaining... and dark.