Harlan County War (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is essentially a fictionalized docudrama about the longest mining strike in the history of the USA, during which some coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky held out more than a year against their mine and the rich utility company that owned and operated it.

The story is closely based upon an acclaimed 1976 documentary called "Harlan County USA", which emphasized the role of the miner's wives in the action . I believe it would have been a great DVD if the disc had included the original documentary, and I would love to see them both together but, alas, such is not the case for various legal and economic reasons. (One reason is that the director of the original documentary was not happy with the way they added fictional characters to her story, or with the similarity of the two titles.)

The sheer length of the bitter strike inspired rancorous and violent behavior on both sides. The employer fired many of the miners, tore down their company-built houses, revoked their credit at the company-owned store, and sent in wave after wave of scabs, but the miners hung tough. 


Holly Hunter showed her breasts in a lengthy and pleasant, but rather dark love scene.
When the first scabs were turned away, the owners received some favorable court rulings from a judge who had substantial coal mining investments of his own, these judgments including an injunction against the miners' rights to picket in peaceful assembly in numbers greater than three, or to bear arms on the picket lines. As scabs started to trickle in, the miners called upon the assistance of people not covered by the injunction - their wives, their children, and retired miners. The owners then escalated the anti-strike activity to include scare tactics and even armed assaults, all of which provoked counter violence from the miners and their supporters. 

Thanks to the dedication of the miners and their loyalty to one another, in addition to some financial support from the UMWA, the striking workers were eventually able to get their company to accede to the union contract, and to obtain the medical benefits they sought. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen version. In general, the full screen transfer is good.

  • interviews with the director and stars

  • various (superficial) written background info on the stars and the real events upon which the film is based

Showtime produced the docudrama, and spared no expense to do a sound dramatization. They hired Stellan Skarsgaard and Holly Hunter, two major talents, to be the two protagonists. Holly played the energetic wife of a miner who became the emotional ground for all the miners and their wives. Stellan played the national UMWA representative who lived with them in Kentucky during their struggle. These were fictional characters set within actual historical events.

If you are a director, you really get your money's worth when you hire Holly Hunter. She does any damned thing necessary to deliver the role the way it's supposed to be played. She mastered that rural Kentucky accent, did the nude scene, whatever it took. In addition to her dedicated acting, Hunter looks better and is in better shape than actresses half her age. What does she weigh - 90 pounds? And that all looks to be muscle. Her face looks fantastic, as well. I don't know if she's had any facial reconstruction, or just relies on physical conditioning to maintain her youthful looks, but whatever she's doing, it works.  

The Critics Vote

  • No reviews online.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.1 
  • With their dollars ... made for cable
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics - or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Very capably performed, straightforward chronological narrative, with an especially complex and well-rounded characterization of the husband of the Hunter character, but no real cinematic hook to pull you in if you aren't predisposed to be interested in the subject matter.

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