Review: ‘Matewan’

Matewan is a heartfelt, straight-ahead tale of labor organizing in the coal mines of West Virginia in 1920 that runs its course like a train coming down the track.

Matewan is a heartfelt, straight-ahead tale of labor organizing in the coal mines of West Virginia in 1920 that runs its course like a train coming down the track.

Among the memorable characters is Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a young union organizer who comes to Matewan to buck the bosses. With his strong face and Harrison Ford good-looks, Cooper gives the film its heartbeat.

Of the townfolk, 16-year-old Danny (Will Oldham) is already a righteous preacher and a seasoned union man who passionately takes up the working man’s struggle. Director John Sayles adds some texture to the mix by throwing in Italian immigrants and black migrant workers who become converted to the union side.

Most notable of the black workers is ‘Few Clothes’ Johnson (James Earl Jones), a burly good-natured man with a powerful presence and a quick smile. Jones’ performance practically glows in the dark. Also a standout is Sayles veteran David Strathairn as the sheriff with quiet integrity who puts his life on the line.

1987: Nomination: Best Cinematography

Matewan

Production

Cinecom/Film Gallery/Red Dog. Director John Sayles; Producer Peggy Rajski, Maggie Renzi; Screenplay John Sayles; Camera Haskell Wexler; Editor Sonya Polonsky; Music Mason Daring; Art Director Nora Chavooshian

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1987. Running time: 130 MIN.

With

Chris Cooper Will Oldham Mary McDonnell Bob Gunton James Earl Jones Kevin Tighe

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