In the rich umbers of Haskell Wexler's cinematography, Matewan does look great.
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.
In its grave clarity, it's as pure and plaintive as a mountain ballad.
Sayles must have meant his movie to stir and provoke, but the self-contained look of it yields something else -- a sense of quaintness, of harmless nostalgia.
| Original Score: 2/4
When this movie stumbles, it stumbles honestly and sympathetically, but, when it succeeds, it makes history sing.
| Original Score: 3/5
The movie works the way Westerns have always worked: In clear, simple terms and with straightforward dramatic devices.
| Original Score: 4/4
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.
The result is witty, astute, and finally very moving.
Mr. Sayles's screenplay goes back to Shakespearean fundamentals... I suspect, however, that this seeming artlessness is a conscious choice. It's another example of the long-lost innocence that Matewan bravely celebrates.
| Original Score: 4.5/5
Riddled with labor rhetoric, this coal-dusted tragedy wavers between well-acted propaganda and historical burlesque.
Add uniformly good acting to Sayles' script of dark coal pits, West Virginia spirit and cowboyish melodrama and you have stirring cinema.