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Hatfields & McCoys (Blu-ray Review)

3 Aug, 2012 By: John Latchem

Sony Pictures
Two-disc set, $45.99 DVD, $55.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Tom Berenger, Powers Boothe, Jena Malone, Lindsay Pulsipher, Mare Winningham.

The legend of the Hatfield-McCoy feud is remembered more as an example of a famous family squabble than for any of the particulars involved. Prior to this generally excellent History Channel rendering of their private little war, I doubt most people outside of the family would have been able to name anyone involved.

According to the miniseries, the feud started more or less because a McCoy accused a Hatfield of having intimate relations with his dog. And from there the families slaughtered each other with impunity for 20 years. It’s like watching The Godfather set in the old West.

Kevin Costner stars as “Devil” Anse Hatfield, the family patriarch who abandons his Confederate unit during the Civil War and heads home to West Virginia to make money through land acquisitions and logging. This doesn’t sit well with fellow soldier Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton), who ends up serving time in a Union POW camp before returning home to Kentucky after the war, on land just over the Tug River from the Hatfields.

Randall’s brother Harmon, however, served in the Union Army, which offends Anse’s uncle, Jim Vance (Tom Berenger), who hunts down and shoots Harmon in the wake of the dog comment.

In turn, Randall accuses a Hatfield of stealing his pigs, leading to a farce of a trial that serves little but to stir tensions, which come to a head when three of Randall’s sons shoot Anse’s brother Ellison at a county fair. When Ellison dies, Anse has the three boys rounded up and shot, leading Randall to hire bounty hunters to avenge the illegal executions.

This is riveting stuff, rendered more tragic by the fact that Anse’s son Johnse has a romantic entanglement with Randall’s daughter Roseanna.

The amusing undercurrent to the storyline involves how powerless the actual authorities seem to stop any of this. So entrenched are the Hatfields and McCoys on their own backwoods land that the true agents of the law are in no rush to risk their own lives to interfere, which shows just how different things were in the 1870s and 1880s.

Seeing the feud play out in such detail makes it hard to reconcile modern trivializations of the conflict, such as when descendants of both families appeared on "Family Feud" 100 years later (in 1979, 24 years before they signed a symbolic peace treaty).

Using Romania as a stand-in for Appalachia, the filmmakers have flawlessly re-created the period. The performances are top-notch as well, particularly Paxton and Berenger. Both have been nominated for Emmys, as have Costner and Mare Winningham as Randall’s wife.

Aside from a very good half-hour making-of featurette, the only other extra on the Blu-ray is a music video of the miniseries’ theme song by Costner’s band.

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