For all that I've heard about the rousing feud that took place between the Hatfields and the McCoy families, HATFIELDS & MCCOYS: BAD BLOOD drew very little blood. There only are a few killings here - though I have absolutely no idea how much if any of this is based on historical events (though I suspect there must be some correlation) - and what there is I'd hardly call `bloody.' Still, there's a respectable undercurrent of shared loathsome running through the entire piece - I wish it had been given greater clarification - so, on that front, I'd give it a decent two and one-half stars as a TV-grade oater.
The story? Well, there are these two familes - one called Hatfield, and one called McCoy - and they basically don't play nicely with one another. The script doesn't give any great exploration as to why - suffice it to say that there are hints pointing to being so closely tied to a dividing line between the North and the South in the Civil War - but it's given way too quick a pass. Still, their long-standing dispute comes to a head when one careless murder leads to another, pushing the two opposing patriarchs - the ever-reliable Jeff Fahey stars as Devil Anse Hatfield, and longtime TV regular Perry King stars as Ran'l McCoy - to finally take stands against one another. Dead bodies follow, though the pile-up here was pretty mild.
In all seriousness, BAD BLOOD could've been a better picture on a lot of fronts. For starters, there's enough acting talent in there - maybe not Academy Award caliber, but solid feature and television experience - that should've lifted this production to another level. The greatest problem would appear to have been the lack of serious money thrown into the mill. Costumes are far too squeaky clean to lend any authenticity to a true Western look, and shooting locations were so limited with detail that far too much of this had to shot fairly close-up. I had to chalk it all up to the lack of a reasonable budget because it all looks acceptable, just not very authentic. However, Christian Slater is so horribly miscast here the only positive thing I can say about his performance is: "Thank goodness it was so brief." He's only in a handful of scenes, and, while the substance of them is critical to moving the story forward, I can't help but wonder what depth may've been added to the role if a stronger talent had been secured.
It all has a bloated `History Channel' feel to it. Exteriors and interiors to several locations - the Governor's mansion, the various homesteads - have a very `U.S. national park' look to them, so much so that I don't doubt several historic landmarks were possibly used. (I have no verified this; it's only a suspicion.) To the picture's detriment, this makes it all feel like a telefilm instead of a richly authentic motion picture - not a bad thing but a hindrance for the audience. The script feels rushed - maybe that was largely due in order to take advantage of confusing this with the History Channel's recent "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton - and I've no doubt a few more tweaks alone would've given the onscreen talent a bit more to chew on. It is what it is, and, as it is, it's still two and one-half stars.
HATFIELDS & MCCOYS: BAD BLOOD is a production of Hybrid, Synthetic Filmwerx, Barnholtz Entertainment, and Lionsgate. DVD distribution appears to have been handled through Lionsgate. Picture quality is fairly consistent, but I found sound quality to be middling; however, I'll admit that one of the ladies slurred and mumbled her way through most of her lines, and maybe that was the greatest source of my frustration. The disc includes a director's commentary, along with a still gallery from the production shoot.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED. Hey, look: I'm honest about being a junkie for solid and even substandard Westerns. BAD BLOOD doesn't quite live up to what I would've wanted in one - TV grade production values, too wooden acting, a script lacking invention, not enough gunplay, etc. - but it's a passable attempt in exploring events - not the people, per se - that added up to some of what made the ultimate family feud so captivating.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with a DVD screener copy of HATFIELDS & MCCOYS: BAD BLOOD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.