One of the greatest stories of hate and senseless revenge that Shakespeare couldn’t have written better, Hatfields & McCoys comes to Blu-ray in glorious detail with an incredible ensemble cast – including brilliant performances from Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.
Because a feud this long and bloody takes a bit of time to tell the truth, Hatfields & McCoys’ story was released first as a three-part mini-series via the History Channel. The Blu-ray release arrives uncut with additional footage that didn’t air on television.
Hatfields & McCoys does take some liberty with the actual facts, but puts the audience into the middle of the feud through lots of violence, blood, and mayhem. And because it’s a real story with people who were real, the impact of the violence is even more horrific.
The bitter rivalry took place in the years after the Civil War, on land that both families claimed rights to owning. ‘Devil’ Anse Hatfield (Costner) is the patriarch on the West Virginian side, and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) is the head of the family on the Kentucky side. The Tug River separates the two strongholds and the two families.
This is a catastrophic example of misunderstandings and resentments gone array. The Hatfields are more on the wealthy side, and the McCoys don’t have quite as much. In a porch conversation with his wife that sums up the financial implications, Randall tells Sally McCoy (Mare Winningham) that he wanted so much for her, including electricity for their home. Randall is a bit of a dreamer and a drunk and makes bad decisions that eventually harm his family.
The two families have parties together and even have inter-married, but Johnse Hatfield (Matt Burr) takes the two families’ fate in his hands as he makes a decision to seduce a McCoy daughter (Johnse is a bit of a player).
Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher) becomes pregnant and the tragic on and off again love between the two is a major wedge that drives the families further into a swirling madness. Oh, and the pig. There is a courtroom fight about a pig stolen and the McCoys are laughed at, which doesn’t sit well in the family.
People of the nearby town take sides, and the McCoy hire bounty hunters to take out Hatfields. The McCoys have a shifty lawyer on their side, Perry Cline (played by Ronan Vibert), and Randall takes Cline’s advice, which keeps the hate alive. Things get so bad that the Hatfields can’t even go into town to get supplies for fear of being shot.
No one is spared from the violence – including children, wives, or the mentally challenged. Several children on the McCoy side are killed, and the Hatfields use their mentally-slow family member Cotton Top as a sort of sacrificial lamb. No one is blameless, even Cotton Top, who kills a McCoy girl as she is running away.
The Hatfields take to the hills and leave their home, and Johnse hooks up with yet another McCoy, Nancy (Jena Malone), a bad girl type that brings more craziness to the already mad atmosphere. Not only does Johnse hook up with her, he marries her. Not a good situation, and Anse Hatfield does not approve.
There is a tense scene in which the audience wonders how far this will go when Anse invites Johnse to go fishing with him and he takes his gun.
Through all of this turmoil, Costner plays Devil Hatfield with a quiet dignity and he comes across as the better man who had to make hard decisions to save his family. With that said, he is far from innocent in the feud and several of his actions make you question his so-called sense of honor.
Paxton’s Randall McCoy comes across as more religious than Anse, but quickly becomes more and more of a drunk who can’t deal with the issues facing him. He runs away (literally) and leaves his family to die in a raid (although his reasoning for leaving his family were justified). He ends up being the only one left in his cabin as Sally goes crazy and most of his children have died, and being the drunk he becomes, he sets the place on fire and dies in the fire.
The series does an excellent job of making sure that Costner and Paxton don’t come across as the hero of the series. Both men have virtues, but they are also filled with flaws that drag their families into endless violence. They both have honor but allow it to warp them into horrific actions – which result in innocents being killed.
The wives, of course, are caught in all of these. Levicy Hatfield (Sarah Parish) retains Anse’s quiet dignity, but she looks very well-manicured for a mountain woman forced, at the end, to live in the hills.
The series is enhanced with a stellar character cast that include players of both Hatfields and McCoys: Tom Berenger plays Tom Vance, Powers Boothe plays Judge Wall Hatfield, Tom McKay plays Jim McCoy, Boyd Holbrook plays the level-headed son Cap Hatfield.
Hatfields & McCoys is an all engrossing look at America’s famous family feud. In the end, one family name couldn’t be said without saying the other.
Although it took some liberties with the historical events, the film gives insight into all of the details that made such a dramatic story. For anyone interested in American history, westerns, Civil War times, or simply family drama, this is one film you won’t want to miss.
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