Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton head warring families in this post-civil war Western series. There are no cowboys, no indians, and the gunfights are at point blank range and still mostly miss the target.
Commissioned by the History Channel, the award-winning ‘Western’ helmed by Costner’s long time buddy, director Kevin Reynolds, is a low-key, gritty drama that trades the bravura of Deadwood in favour of the Kevin’s middle-aged, over-earnest worthiness. A large cast of pretty actors dirty-down as the back-woods Kentuckians and Virginians, with plenty of whisker-acting among the men and little for the women to do.
Based on real events that took place along the banks of the Tug Fork and Big Sandy rivers on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky, this falls awkwardly between drama and documentary.
Starting in 1863, two Confederate fighters go separate ways near the end of the war – Costner’s Anse Hatfield deserts the army after finding a child soldier bleeding to death on the battlefield. Paxton’s Randall McCoy see out the war in a Union prison camp – which means he gets to chase awards by going occassionally nuts on camera with PTSD. Meanwhile, the grizzled Costner sets himself up as a local lumber baron, overshadowing the moon-shiners and dirt farmers of the McCoy clan. Arguing over land and money, timber and pigs, the real feud is that Hatfield won’t ask the forgiveness that McCoy won’t give for deserting the war.
Skipping ahead to 1880, the Hatfield and McCoy offspring are suddenly grown up, you don’t know who any of them are. Focusing on a Romeo and Juliet romance between a McCoy belle and a Hatfield Beau ups the cliché count and while they play Jets and Sharks (Westside Story, come on, keep up) you still don’t care. They are an unsympathetic bunch.
One whole episode centres around the theft of a pig, with Deadwood‘s Powers Booth wiping everyone else off the screen as cousin Judge Hatfield. There’s an ambush of sorts in the woods, and a saloon shootout, but these rare bursts of action do little to liven up three opening episodes; the whole show is typically ‘the Kevins’; deadly dull.
Things pick up in the final two episodes, with rival posses and a showdown, but after Deadwood and Justified, Hatfields and McCoys is so rooted in historical fact, weighed down with characters we don’t get to know, however many awards it won in the US, it didn’t move me as a die-hard Western fan. If you are expecting Tombstone, sad to say you’re getting more of Costner’s Wyatt Earp, which is a shame as Costner has Western pedigree with Open Range. Hatfields and McCoys didn’t raise so much as a ye-hah! RC
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