Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Matewan (1987)

This film was extremely well-received by critics at the time of its release, but there were a handful who complained that the historical Battle of Matewan was painted too black and white for their sensibilities. I can't even begin to describe how misguided that notion is. When we're dealing with the corporate greed of a coal-mining company in the early 1920s, whose workers were most definitely getting screwed on a daily basis, how can they say that the most important conflict in this story is not right versus wrong? I'm not saying certain things weren't sensationalized, or that in real life all the workers were heroes and all the company men villains, but it's incredibly disrespectful to the history of organized labor to say that it's just a lot of idealistic melodrama. But why am I bothering to defend a movie that most viewers enjoy? Because it's the mindset of people who don't get it that is a major cause of suffering in the world. The union leader Joe Kenehan, played by Chris Cooper, says that he didn't go off to the war because all he could see in it was "workers fighting workers". Even today that's an extremely controversial idea, and not one that you can try to apply to the so-called "good wars" without being laughed at, unless you work it into a nice little film like this.

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