The History Channel puts itself on the great entertainment section of the cable map with the production of Hatfields & McCoys, a three part mini-series. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton head the cast and both men give very balanced and nuanced portrayals. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, this mini-series is the best I have seen since the days of Lonesome Dove.
Sometimes mini-series are drawn out and suffer from the length taken, but not Hatfields & McCoys. This story needs the full range of all three nights to give a complete telling of what happened and why. Details are needed to fully present this story concerning the growth of the feud between the two families. It didn't happen overnight; the two patriarchs of their clans even started off as friends and fellow soldiers in the rebel cause.
Things begin to go wrong when "Devil" Hatfield (Costner) deserts the army and Randall McCoy (Paxton) knows of the desertion. Randall ends up in a union prison and suffers mightily before being released when the war ended. He returns home to find "Devil" hale and hearty and ready to renew their friendship.
The two men live on property that is pretty close, and each family is made up of brothers, sisters and children. "Devil's" hot-headed brother James (Tom Berenger) angers the McCoys when he kills one of their clan who had served as a union soldier. James isn't prosecuted, as it was his word against those who "thought" he had done it.
The bad blood between the two families festers and stews for years until it erupts into an all out war. Getting to this point makes up the heart of the story. We see each major or minor infraction which somehow riles someone in the opposing family
The locale selected is perfect for the setting of the story and the faintly faded look of the film adds to the texture of the plot. The look of the actors and the way they are dressed makes every scene believable.
Costner and Paxton get marvelous support from Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield, "Devil's" wife, and Mare Winningham as Sally McCoy, Randall's spouse. There also is a Romeo and Juliet type of love story throughout concerning a love affair between Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) and Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher). The love between these too adds even more fuel to the fire of rage between the families.
The film is plain spoken in its use of profanity and the violence in the film is not graphic but is intense. This is not a movie aimed at the entire family, even if it is on the History Channel. At movie theaters it would probably be rated PG-13 or maybe even R.
For those of you who love history, this mini-series is a treasure trove of information. For others who just love a good movie and have been longing for a Western type adventure, it is an answer to their prayers.
Once you watch the first five minutes you will be hooked on the entire mini-series, so get ready to spend three nights watching a fascinating story. It is Hatfields & McCoys and it airs on the History Channel May 28, 29 and 30 at 9PM.
Jackie K Cooper