Starring: Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Mood: If your family is driving you mad and you want to ignore them for five hours to watch two Western clans violently kill each other off.
“If you two don’t mend what’s wrong between you, hellfire’s gonna rise up and consume both our families.”
Judge ‘Wall’ Hatfield (Powers Boothe)
People should start saying that like Kevin Costner, wine gets better with age. I don’t drink fancy wine, or whisky, or eat stinky old cheeses, but Costner is SO GOOD at epic Westerns that he deserves to be the measurement for things that gain awesomeness over time.
- Wyatt Earp is an outstanding period drama
- Open Range is basically the perfect Western
- Hatfields & McCoys is a dark and brilliant piece of work
If you’re obsessed with Yellowstone – and you should be – you will not regret spending five hours immersing yourself in the gritty family history of the Hatfields and McCoys.
Hatfields & McCoys is the History Channel’s first launched scripted drama, and you can feel the loving attention to detail throughout this TV miniseries.
Some critics went so far as to say that the show favoured historical accuracy over story, but that’s f*cking ridiculous. There’s so much story here that at times you wish you could reach in and slap the characters upside the head and bring the whole thing to a halt. But if you did, you wouldn’t get all the juicy drama.
Hatfields & McCoys faithfully captures the events of the most violent decades for these two warring families: the 1860s through 1880s.
Things kick off with William Anderson ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield (Costner) and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) serving as Confederate soldiers and seemingly good friends. But Anse deserts, which pisses off Randall. When Randall is finally able to return home, where his family barely got by without him, Anse has spent his time building up a profitable logging business.
Tensions rise over what seems like an obviously stolen pig, and get worse when young Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) falls for Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher). Then there’s a messy drunken fight that ends in a stabbing, and from there out it’s a full-on war with a massive body count.
It would be impossible to pick out a best performance from this talented cast. I’ll do my best not to ramble, but no promises.
Costner is great. I mean really great. He flawlessly evokes the air of a man who believes with every fibre of his being that he’s right. About everything. But then every so often, he gives a long look filled with exhaustion and regret, and you can almost believe that he’s not all bad.
Bill Paxton is the perfect opponent for Costner. Where Anse has self-assuredness, Paxton’s portrayal of Randall is all pious righteousness – or rather, a desperate belief that God is on his side. It’s Paxton’s vulnerability in his descent into hopelessness that makes it so hard to watch his kin get killed.
Sarah Parish and Mare Winningham get less than half the screentime as the Hatfield and McCoy matriarchs, but they make powerful impressions. These are raw, realistic portrayals of women who birthed a LOT of f*cking kids (13 for Levicy, 17 for Sally), fed and cared for them while the men were at war, and then dealt with the non-stop pain of losing those kids in the decades-long fight.
- Fun Fact: Mare Winningham played Costner’s ‘wife’ (Mattie Blaylock) in Wyatt Earp, but plays the wife of his nemesis in Hatfields & McCoys.
There’s also a ton of strength in the supporting cast:
- Boyd Holbrook gives me Draco Malfoy vibes as the dead shot Cap Hatfield, who will kill pretty much anyone his dad or uncle point him toward
- Powers Boothe is always a star, and he makes a strong turn in the courtroom scenes as Judge Wall Hatfield
- Tom Berenger won an Emmy for his performance as the vicious uncle Jim Vance (team Hatfield), who arguably started the entire thing and certainly made it worse on multiple occasions
- Matt Barr is kind of the perfect man-candy as Johnse; they romanticized his character a bit, given that he did indeed abandon a pregnant woman for her cousin and get married multiple times, but Barr does it with such earnest sweetness that you feel for him
- Jena Malone gives a standout performance as the bad girl Nancy McCoy; this is a complex character out for revenge, fiercely independent, but also loyal to her family – and Malone takes you on a roller coaster ride
As mentioned, this miniseries paid a phenomenal amount of attention to detail. There are so many Hatfields and McCoys that sometimes you forget who is on which side when a new round of punching, chasing, or shooting breaks out.
And even though you know that the penalty for killing was death, your heart hurts when the young men have to die for a war between the adults. The story drags you through every emotion while witnessing both the violent wrongdoings and feeble hopes on both sides.
The cinematography is also fantastic. Some online reviews complained about the use of a slight sepia cast, but I think it perfectly evokes the hardships of the time as well as the bleak feeling that settles in at the start of the show, and only gets worse.
Real-life Hatfield and McCoy tensions faded after the final trial of Johnse Hatfield in 1901. The family drama officially ended in 2003, when over 60 descendants of both families publicly signed a truce.
But prior to that, members of the families actually competed on a 1979 episode of Family Feud – the popular game show that it turns out was based on their long-standing fight! Included in the prize package was a symbolic pig.
I highly recommend reading up on the entire Hatfields and McCoys backstory, including the histories of Randall McCoy, Devil Anse Hatfield, and literally any of the gazillion relatives.
The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries won several awards, and set an all-time cable viewing record when it aired. The previous most-watched single broadcast (excluding sports) was TNT’s Crossfire Trail.
It’s a great f*cking epic Western all around. If it didn’t require the better part of a day to watch, I’d probably put it in my regular rotation. I bet that, like Kevin Costner, all those little details just get better with time.