Harlan County, U.S.A.

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 13


Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,823
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Movie Info

This film chronicles the bitter and violent struggle waged by coal miners during a strike in 1973 in Eastern Kentucky against the Eastover Mining Company. The story focuses on the miners and their families' fight for decent living standards in an area where many still live in shacks with no indoor plumbing and work at jobs with little security and dangerous conditions.


Critic Reviews for Harlan County, U.S.A.

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (13)

  • Suffers from some makeshift structural devices and occasional lapses of judgment, but it's an ardent, absorbing work of partisan documentary film-making.

    May 10, 2017 | Full Review…
  • Kopple's rather terrifying film rocked its minuscule audience and instantly became a cultural touchstone.

    Oct 11, 2005
  • Even after the credits ended and there was nothing to look at, we remained in our seats for several moments, stunned and moved. P.S. A lot of the credits had female names, more than this reviewer has ever seen on a commercial film.

    Aug 14, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Harlan County follows with precision and detail the development of the long conflict in Harlan. [Full Review in Spanish]

    Aug 2, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Few documentaries rivet you to your seat; this one does. The guts it took to make are up there on the screen, in the footage shot by director Barbara Kopple and cameraman Hart Perry during the violent encounters.

    Apr 10, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • Harlan County attains its main goal-to honor a segment of our society which the rest of America has been willing to write off as underdogs, victims sacrificed to the imperatives of an industrial nation.

    Jan 30, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Harlan County, U.S.A.

  • Apr 24, 2014
    Considered one of the best documentaries ever made, Harlan County lives us to its reputation. The film makers reveal all the personalities involved in the tragic fight of the coal miners union with management.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 23, 2011
    Coal miners strike against the company that exploits them and the union that doesn't always represent their interests. In 1976 this was a ground-breaking film that deserved and won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Today it is still relevant. Many of the issues have changed, but the exploitation of coal miners, the corruption of the union, and the dangerous nature of the work have remained horrifyingly similar as the recent mine accidents attest. The cinematography is fantastic. The film crew, working for over a year, was able to capture stark images of miners covered in coal dust, miners suffering the diseases that come with coal mining, scenes of violence that are shocking in their reality and nearness, and the overall spirit of the town. Interviews with many of the miners and company executives tell the story without the narration that we see in many of today's documentary, in which the documentarian is a central character in the film. I think the most authentic element of the film is the soundtrack, which is comprised of union songs sung by the strikers themselves. Overall, this documentary is wonderful in its ability to immerse the audience in the feeling, look, and culture of Harlan County.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Jan 06, 2011
    Barbara Kopple's hard-hitting, rought-around the edges, people vs politics documentary definitely heats up the screen, and some thoughts. Harlan County, USA followed 200 coal-mining families and their battle to get their rights, what every human being needs, and yet it's unbaised. The music acted as a narator, and we followed along almost dismally as the plot seemed to turn down a darker and more corrupt path every minute. Though it's hard to follow with all of the ideas of the Kentucy-Coal-Miners, it is extremely easy to follow their cause. Overall, the movie was well made, yet felt slightly off.
    Liz < Super Reviewer
  • Feb 16, 2010
    A very ambitious documentary that was incredibly ahead of its time. The cinematography is unbelievable, it doesn't look like a documentary. You see the true picture of this small town and their complete dependence on the coal mining industry. It gets a little too dramatic at times and I think it was in some ways exaggerated, but I thinks it's one of the better documentaries to be made in the last 30 years.
    Conner R Super Reviewer

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