Piquing my interest in all of its promotion and Twitter conversation, this series seemed a good bet plus my dad was interested in seeing it. That hype may have been justified but I felt empty at credits rolling.
In the horrors of war, Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) and Captain Anse ‘Devil’ Hatfield (Kevin Costner) were friends. They fought side by side towards the latter part of the Civil War and save an entire company of men they are leading into battle. On their last mission while they are being held in an embankment, they find safety only because Anse stays behind and barely escapes with his life. Tired of being responsible for their lives, Anse calls it quits that same night and rides off to Randall’s shouts of his desertion. His return home finds his wife, Levincy (Sarah Parish) happy that her husband returned to her. In his absence she was raising their small children on her own on their land in West Virginia. Taking up his work again, Anse gets his logging business up and running and before the war is over, he makes a comfortable living. Then Randall returns home.
Not quite right since his return, his wife Sally (Mare Winningham) is worried about her husband’s ability to re-adjust to life on their Kentucky farm. Furious at the rumors that it was Anse’s uncle, Jim Vance (Tom Berenger) who murdered his brother, Randall sets his mind to getting revenge on any Hatfield who gets in his way. Anse’s attempts to set their differences right go array when his eldest, impulsive son, Johnse (Matt Barr) falls for Randall’s girl, Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher) and then his own brother is murdered by three of Randall’s sons. A bitter feud is born between the two families.
It takes a lot for me to really like a historical mini series. Partly this is because despite my best intentions, I am not the most avid history aficionado and partly because it takes skill behind the camera (and in front of it) to make most events in history seem interesting. This History channel series is one that is a bit too slow-moving and “dry” for its own good, though I do understand its need to be less about action and more about emotion. With no knowledge about this historically, subconsciously I realized it was inspired by real events though I also assumed that this take took liberties and was a dramatization above all else. One of the things that cannot be argued against is the phenomenal cast this boasts. In addition to the aforementioned, there is Powers Boothe, Noel Fisher, Nick Dunning and Jena Malone. Casting directors pulled together a great bunch of talent; just looking at that cast listing impresses if nothing else does.
Authenticity as far as costumes and sets go seemed to be something set and costume designers strived for including its period exact landscapes and a cast of characters that “fit” the mold of 1800’s America. This is one area in which I was constantly impressed. The costuming always seemed right and suited its characters well while the landscapes and structures were befitting of the scene set-ups and creates the right frame of mind for the audience, almost transplanting us into the gritty world of the Hatfields and McCoys. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this series compelling enough to say it is something everyone should see even once. It is interesting in many of the nuances and the production quality is memorable but there is something lacking in its premise. History or not, there is no point to it.
Clocking in at a long four-and-a-half hours, divided into three parts, the span of the series is over ten years long and is riddled with nothing but a feud that had no basis and comes across as pointless as its confusing run of characters that the script introduces poorly. There are so many McCoys and Hatfields it leaves us with a dazed look wondering who everyone is though the character development aside from Anse and Randall is virtually non-existent. Breaking records and ratings, the production qualities don't rescue this. Sure there is a Romeo and Juliet story played out and there is sorrow but very little of it makes us “feel” anything but wonder at the pointless bad blood between the families’s that – quite literally, kept these characters living.
(What to know: The script is littered with profanities and crude remarks to say nothing of the violent killing. Though I saw this edited, it sometimes seems nearly every other word was muted; commonplace profanities like h*ll, sh*t, da*n are used including GD and perhaps some stronger swear words. There is implied extra-marital sex a handful of times – once resulting in pregnancy. A far out shot shows a couple jumping into the river naked. There are some crudities coupled with the language. Dozens of people die – some children, other’s without trials. People are shot, stabbed and hanged. There is usually a disgusting amount of blood – some characters are injured and must have bullets pulled out of them. One man is scalped. This series is NR but would warrant at least a PG13.)