Famous for killing each other: “Hatfields & McCoys”

“Hatfields & McCoys” (2012 TV)

Directed by Kevin Reynolds

8.5/10  TV-14

“Pure television cinema” is the only way I could describe “Hatfields and McCoys” after the three-day event concluded on History Channel. Director Reynolds (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”) controls an all-star cast (including two-time Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner and four-time Golden Globe-nominee Bill Paxton) in the engaging tale of America’s most infamous family feud.

Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy had a history that dated back to the 1850’s, when Hatfield (Costner) is shown ditching the cavalry in order to return home to his wife (Sarah Parish). McCoy (Paxton), a staunch critic of quitters, immediately turns his back to his old pal, and when he returns home from war the relationship gets even worse. “Guns have never failed me…not like judges and lawyers,” Hatfield says to his skeptical brother, a renowned judge. Soon, uncles (like Tom Berenger, the violent catalyst to the feud), sons, and cousins of the two men begin to feud, a Hatfield court quickly passes judgment on a McCoy case, and when forbidden love (an American Romeo and Juliet) further divides the two families, Hatfield and McCoy will learn if blood really is thicker than water. Then, when rewards are placed on the heads of a dozen Hatfields, a “bad” man-hunter makes it his goal to find and kill every last one.

Teleplaywright Ted Mann helped script the similarly set HBO series “Deadwood,” which turned out to be perfect practice for this Civil War-era drama. Despite the Biblical-sounding phrases used occasionally (“spill your seed,” for one), the dialogue seems to naturally fit the era without losing today’s simple audiences. And the two leads deliver the lines with the passion and emotion necessary for a heated rivalry like the Hatfields and McCoys. Costner shows us all why he’s had a long, commercially successful career – Hatfield showed undeniable emotion upon seeing his brother killed, just one of many intense scenes. And Paxton gives an incredible performance as the deeply troubled war veteran, shedding tears as McCoy returned to church after his wartime service. You can cut the tension (however re-enacted it may have been) with a knife when the two men go at it.

“DLSV.” It seems like a mouthful, but “Hatfields & McCoys” TV-14 rating allows for sufficient cursing without using the F-word, a perfect mix of audacity and virtue. But with each part alone as long as most feature films, “Hatfields & McCoys” sometimes seems to drag on longer than necessary. Naturally, like any good show, there are some rough patches between the most intense scenes. But regardless, I bought into it the entire time, not once accepting the fact that I was watching a 2012 reenactment. The costumes, scenery (all filmed in Romania, for the abundance of virgin wilderness), and weaponry all looked authentic, and the simply perfect soundtrack (featuring Kevin Costner with his folk group Modern West) helped “Hatfields & McCoys” tremendously with tension and atmosphere. Three deaths by firing squad looked extremely convincing (even in slow motion, which I have to think was just showboating, since the deaths looked just as real) as did the other, more easily acted deaths.

“Hatfields & McCoys” promises to put a face on this 150-year-old story, but it makes no promises of historical accuracy. Despiteits lax approach, much of the story seems to be based on the (dramatized, somewhat slanted) truth. And for that, viewers should get more than a surface-level satisfaction of the epic. “Pure television cinema” was exactly what it was, and you’ll be able to see the whole thing unfold (perhaps again) when “Hatfields & McCoys” releases on Blu-ray and DVD later this summer.

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