A little-known chapter of American labour history is brought vividly to life in this period drama from writer-director John Sayles. It's a fictional story about labour wars among West Virginia coal miners during the 1920s, but every detail is so right that the film has the unmistakable ring of truth. The tension begins when the Stone Mountain Coal Company of Matewan, West Virginia, announces a lower pay rate for miners, who respond by calling a strike under the leadership of a United Mine Workers representative (Chris Cooper). Proving strength in numbers, the miners are joined by black and Italian miners who initially resist the strike, and a fateful battle ensues when detectives hired by the coal company attempt to evict miners from company housing. Violence erupts in a sequence of astonishing, cathartic intensity, and Matewan
achieves a rare degree of moral complexity combined with gut-wrenching tragedy. The film salutes a pacifist ideal while recognising that personal and political convictions often must be defended with violence. To illustrate this point, Sayles enlisted master cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who creates the film's authentic visual texture--a triumph of artistry over limited resources. The result is a milestone of independent filmmaking, and Matewan
remains one of Sayles's finest achievements. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
West Virginia, the 1920s. The Stone Mountain Coal Company of Matewan announces yet another cut in wages, leaving the miners no option but to go on strike. The company responds by bringing in black and Italian workers to replace the strikers, and for a while it seems that the three groups will come into direct conflict. But union organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) manages to avert any such catastophe by uniting all the workers into a single community ready to take a stand against anything the bosses throw at them, including the threat of violence....