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      Matewan

      PG-13 Released Aug 28, 1987 2h 12m History Drama List
      94% Tomatometer 34 Reviews 93% Audience Score 2,500+ Ratings Filmed in the coal country of West Virginia, "Matewan" celebrates labor organizing in the context of a 1920s work stoppage. Union organizer, Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a scab named "Few Clothes" Johnson (James Earl Jones) and a sympathetic mayor and police chief heroically fight the power represented by a coal company and Matewan's vested interests so that justice and workers' rights need not take a back seat to squalid working conditions, exploitation and the bottom line. Read More Read Less

      Critics Reviews

      View All (34) Critics Reviews
      Richard Corliss TIME Magazine In the rich umbers of Haskell Wexler's cinematography, Matewan does look great. Mar 22, 2013 Full Review Jonathan Rosenbaum Chicago Reader If Sayles's bite were as lethal as his bark, he might have given this a harder edge and a stronger conclusion. But the performances are uniformly fine. Mar 22, 2013 Full Review Jay Carr Boston Globe In its grave clarity, it's as pure and plaintive as a mountain ballad. Mar 22, 2013 Full Review Brian Eggert Deep Focus Review A film that cannot help but spark comparisons between the 1920s coal wars and the decline of the unions over the last century. Rated: 4/4 Feb 17, 2022 Full Review Piers Marchant Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Continuing in his fabulous run in the '80s, Sayles was at the very top of his powers, shooting on location in West Virginia and populating his screen with a blend of gifted character actors. Nov 20, 2020 Full Review David Harris Spectrum Culture Matewan remains relevant as corporations and captains of industry continue to exploit workers and drum up fear about unions. Jul 28, 2020 Full Review Read all reviews

      Audience Reviews

      View All (161) audience reviews
      Alec B Sayles strikes the right balance of realism and hope here. Per usual he assembles one hell of a cast. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 01/09/24 Full Review Georgan G Experience how West Virginia miners lived before unions were allowed, watch this film. Years of warfare between the unions & mine owner hired gun thugs. Shows a life of hard scrabble. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 01/08/24 Full Review Audience Member Over 35 years old I remember watching it in school learning about union history It's inspired by real events and won an Oscar for best cinematography The story of the Union being brought to West Virginia in 1920 to the coal miners and having them strike back against the Stone Mountain Coal Company They're very reluctant joining the blacks and Italians while facing wage cuts Love Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, David Straithrn, and James Earl Jones One of John Sayles' best films to this day and one of my favorite historical flicks Rated 4 out of 5 stars 08/29/23 Full Review Audience Member I can't believe this beautifully told story hasn't been available to stream for free or pay *once* in the last few years, since it had a 30th anniversary in 2017 and since its subject is so very relevant to the current debate about worker's rights, fossil fuel barons, and even immigration, especially since it takes place just before a devastating financial collapse and other events (like a slide into fascism) we're clearly preparing to repeat. Just bought a DVD with this and another Sayles favorite, The Secret of Roan Innish. It's worth renting a physical DVD for. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 01/28/23 Full Review Audience Member Sayles strikes the right balance of realism and hope here. Per usual he assembles one hell of a cast. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 02/13/23 Full Review matthew d An unreal depiction of corporate cruelty. Indie director John Sayles' historical drama Matewan (1987) is an engrossing portrayal of real life Matewan coal mining town incident in which coal miners struggled to organize a union against the wishes of vicious, violent, and capitalist, coal companies. Matewan is an important indie film that is gripping as it is masterful. Sayles insists on the importance of solidarity among all workers regardless of race, color, ethnicity, age, or creed with his realistic and thoughtful writing. You witness the cruelty and atrocity committed by the coal companies that underpaid workers or only paid them in company script, so that coal miners and their families were akin to indentured servants. It's horrifying how coal companies hired mercenaries to enforce their brutal policies even murdering coal miners at will. Matewan is an unforgettable reminder that corporations are only in business for money at any cost, even human life. John Sayles' writing persists through the ages as a standard of Americana. Sayles' direction is striking and stark with a bleak outlook on life. Everything feels hopeless except for the willpower of the working class, who Sayles clearly cares deeply about due to his humanitarian perspective on the unimaginable conditions coal miners lived under daily. Haskell Wexler's cinematography features long held still shots are miners pass by the camera, startling tracking shots of gunmen walking up to a shootout, and slow ponderous panning shots that allow audiences to digest deep conversations. The craftsmanship of John Sayles and Haskell Wexler is no joke in Matewan. 132 minutes pass by in quick moments because Matewan keeps you in suspense in each tense scene of close encounters between union men and company men. Sonya Polonsky's swift edits send you from deep down in the coal mines back up to the miners' wives trying to stay alive. Nora Chavooshian and Dan Bishop's production design flawlessly recreates old American mining towns in all their rustic dust and poverty. Mason Daring's score is full of country and folk tunes that hurt your soul as you watch the brave union men suffer and die. Cynthia Flint's costumes are really cool. From coal tinged suits and jackets to dirty cotton dresses, Matewan looks like a genuine coal mining town. Chris Cooper delivers his finest acting up there with American Beauty. He is a cool and likable union organizer sent to aid Matewan establish their own coal miner's union. His calm courage and stalwart morals are on full display as Cooper's relentless performance is both pensive and inspiring. His character makes you feel like everything will be alright. Similarly, David Strathairn is interesting and cool as Matewan's principled Police Chief Sid Hatfield. His brave standoff with the company's hired guns is not only one of the coolest scenes in cinema history, but a touching display of solidarity with the coal miners. Strathairn's character could easily have fallen into a common stereotype of the corrupt policeman who looks the other way while innocent people are terrorized by men in power; however, Strathairn's Police Chief Sid Hatfield is an avid defender of justice and decency. He represents an example of American justice and righteousness that is refreshing to see. Mary McDonnell is sympathetic as a single mother struggling to provide for her family in Matewan. Her stubborn character, Elma Radnor, is also brave in her own way as she does what she must to survive in hard times. I liked Will Oldham's performance as the young preacher Danny Radnor. I enjoyed seeing the director John Sayles himself as the hardshell preacher too! On the other hand, the adorable Nancy Mette perfectly plays the flirtatious, desperate, and naive Bridey Mae. I really appreciated James Earl Jones as the patient and strong man Few Clothes. I must mention the talented Kevin Tighe's shockingly cruel performance as the company stooge Hickey. Alongside Gordon Clapp's lecherous Griggs, Tighe terrorize Matewan with fearsome indifference, which is what makes them so scary as villains. Bob Gunton is despicable as the traitorous C.E. Lively. I swear Gunton was born to play heinous villains on screen. In all, Matewan is a masterpiece of significant writing and history with outstanding direction from the indie auteur John Sayles. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Read all reviews
      Matewan

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      Cast & Crew

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      Movie Info

      Synopsis Filmed in the coal country of West Virginia, "Matewan" celebrates labor organizing in the context of a 1920s work stoppage. Union organizer, Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a scab named "Few Clothes" Johnson (James Earl Jones) and a sympathetic mayor and police chief heroically fight the power represented by a coal company and Matewan's vested interests so that justice and workers' rights need not take a back seat to squalid working conditions, exploitation and the bottom line.
      Director
      John Sayles
      Producer
      Peggy Rajski, Maggie Renzi
      Screenwriter
      John Sayles
      Production Co
      Film Gallery, Goldcrest Films, Ltd., Red Dog Films, Cinecom Entertainment Group
      Rating
      PG-13
      Genre
      History, Drama
      Original Language
      English
      Release Date (Theaters)
      Aug 28, 1987, Wide
      Rerelease Date (Theaters)
      Apr 5, 2002
      Release Date (DVD)
      May 1, 2008
      Box Office (Gross USA)
      $23.9K
      Runtime
      2h 12m
      Sound Mix
      Stereo