|Starring:||Mary McDonnell, Chris Cooper, Ken Jenkins, James Earl Jones|
|Run time:||2 hours 7 minutes|
|Rental release:||Not currently released|
Most helpful review
A great American movieBy pipandian from London , 06 May 2004
[Highly rated reviewer]'Matewan' is a great example of how film can engage with social issues, politics and history, without becoming dry or polemic.
Like Sayles' more recent 'Sunshine State', the movie is a meditation on the effects of changing industrial society on the community and the individual, and like that film, is rooted in American history, and is unafraid to wrestle with some of the great American taboos; communism, the depression, fundamentalist religion.
It's a very interesting cinematic document, too, as a milestone in the career of one of independent cinema's most creative and important directors; as one of the few movies that the superb Chris Cooper has taken the lead role; and as the most enduring performance in the short film career of the great American songwriter Will Oldham.
It's a beautiful film, shot with a love of the landscape that is echoed throughout Sayles' best work, not least in 'Lone Star'.
Ultimately, though, 'Matewan' is a human drama both of and about integrity, passion and belief in ideals, and stands as one of the great American films of the 1980s.
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A REAL American movie?By a customer from Ireland , 04 Jan 2007Great story, good acting and perfect music - what more does a film fan want?
A gripping history lessonBy richard nixon from Preston, England , 11 Dec 2006It is a rarity these days to see a film that has a social conscience, what with Hollywood more preoccupied with more action and better special effects, so watching this movie feels a little like wallowing in nostalgia. It is a slice of movie as history lesson, written and directed by one of the last humanitarian directors still working today, John Sayles.
Taking as its starting point the labour wars that went on in America during the 1920s, the film deals with the fictional account of a group of West Virginia miners in the town of Matewan. After the Stone Mine Coal Company reduces rates of pay yet again, the miners go on strike, with the result that the company bring in hired guns both to remove the miners from company owned houses, and protect the mine from sabotage attempts. Gradually things escalate, and violence breeds violence as the genuine grievances of the miners are met head on with the intransigence of the company.
Working with a trio of his favourite actors, Sayles has crafted a film that whilst it deals with a fictionalised event, has such a compelling ring of truth to it that you may find it hard to believe that you are not watching historical fact (as indeed I did). Chris Cooper is superb as Joe Kenehan, the man brought in by the fledgling United Mine Workers union to try to help the miners organize, who must fight against the miners natural inclination to fight fire with fire whilst trying to convince them that solidarity is the only way, and Mary McDonnall gives a quiet, dignified performance as Elma Radnor, a widow whos husband has already met his death down the mine due to the companys appalling safety record, and now sees her son risking the same as he becomes a miner himself. But the two standout performances are David Strathairn as the towns sheriff, a slight figure of a man who refuses to be bullied by the companies thugs and is prepared to do whatever he must in order to protect the people under his jurisdiction, and James Earl Jones as the aptly named Few Clothes, one of a number of workers brought in by the company to work the mine who finds his true sympathies lie with the striking miners.
The film deals with Sayles preoccupation of the little man being given a rough ride by those in power, and whilst his other films have only handled this subject in a metaphorical manner (such as Eight Men Out), this deals with it in a head on, literal sense. Whilst the film literally screams worthiness from the very opening shot, it avoids sermonising on the whole (apart from a few scenes when characters do, literally deliver sermons), and manages to salute both a pacifist ideal and at the same time admit that some ideals must occasionally be defended with violence. It is also something of a slow burn, with several scenes managing to avoid the expected violence altogether, but when the violence does come it is both quick and brutal, tragic and life changing.
GrippingBy crispin40 (563 reviews) from Stirling, Scotland , 01 Oct 2005Knowing this was a John Sayles film, we knew we were in for a good one. Especially as Chris Cooper and James Earl Jones were in the cast. We were not disappointed!
Suspect a lot of the scenes were shot in the studio and would have liked some extra material about the fate of the miners and their mines in later years. However, tho I agree with some of the other reviewers that it was a little overlong, it was gripping and held our attention and emotions for the whole time.
I've certainly learned a lot with ScreenSelect - to think that I'd never heard of John Sayles before this time last year!
We began with 'The Sunshine State' -borrowed by chance from the local library and then - thanks to ScreenSelect have borrowed as many of his others as we can. Think that this is the best yet but 'Limbo' comes very close to it.
Looking forward to the next ones when released on DVD!
A little gemBy Martin from Sunderland , 11 Aug 2005Came to this only knowing it was a John Sayles film and came away thinking this was his best yet. Chris Cooper is excellent in the lead role. Coming from a mining family myself,I sort of connected with it in a small way. A film with real heart and pathos.
Divide and RuleBy triplegem from essex , 12 Jun 2005A story of the early--and non-mafia controlled-- union IWW in America. Cooper gives a very convincing and sympathetic portrayal of union organiser Joe Kenehan.
I found this film difficult as it was gut-wrenching in some places. The end seemed inevitable in which the forces of the bosses would always be the winners in the end.
But as a commentary on the struggle to establish workers rights in it invaluable as well as being emotional.
The quality of the film is now well worn and the dialogue difficult in places. But all-in-all worth the effort.
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