IMDb > Matewan (1987)
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Matewan (1987) More at IMDbPro »

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John Sayles (written by)
View company contact information for Matewan on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
30 June 1988 (Australia) See more »
It takes more than guns to kill a man See more »
A labor union organizer comes to an embattled mining community brutally and violently dominated and harassed by the mining company. Full summary » | Full synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
Nominated for Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations See more »
(24 articles)
Cartagena to honour John Sayles, Clive Owen
 (From ScreenDaily. 24 February 2014, 2:34 AM, PST)

John Sayles Talks 'Matewan' at the Marchesa
 (From Slackerwood. 18 December 2013, 7:30 AM, PST)

Movies This Week: December 6-12, 2013
 (From Slackerwood. 6 December 2013, 12:00 PM, PST)

User Reviews:
"We're Gonna Have The Union!" See more (52 total) »


  (in credits order) (complete, awaiting verification)

Chris Cooper ... Joe Kenehan

Mary McDonnell ... Elma Radnor

Will Oldham ... Danny Radnor

David Strathairn ... Sid Hatfield

Ken Jenkins ... Sephus Purcell

Kevin Tighe ... Hickey

Gordon Clapp ... Tom Griggs

Bob Gunton ... C.E. Lively

Jace Alexander ... Hillard Elkins

Joe Grifasi ... Fausto
Nancy Mette ... Bridey Mae
Jo Henderson ... Mrs. Elkins

Josh Mostel ... Cabell Testerman
Gary McCleery ... Ludie
Maggie Renzi ... Rosaria

Tom Wright ... Tom
Michael B. Preston ... Ellix (as Michael Preston)
Thomas A. Carlin ... Turley (as Tom Carlin)
Jenni Cline ... Luann

Michael Mantell ... Doolin (as Michael A. Mantel)
J.K. Kent Lilly ... Pappy's Voice (voice)
Ida Williams ... Mrs. Knightes
James Kizer ... Tolbert
Ronnie Stapleton ... Stennis
Davide Ferrario ... Gianni
Frank Payne Jr. ... Old Miner

John Sayles ... Hardshell Preacher
Hazel Dickens ... Singer
Charles Haywood ... Sheb
Neale Clark ... Isaac
Mitch Scott ... Mister
Hazel Pearl ... Missus
Michael Frasher ... Lee Felts

Frank Hoyt Taylor ... Al Felts
Fred Decker ... James
Bill Morris ... Bass
Delmas Lawhorn ... Conductor
William Dean ... Broker
P. Michael Munsey ... Broker
Thomas Hal Phillips ... Boxcar Guard (as Hal Phillips)
Stephen C. Hall ... Redneck Miner
Percy Fruit ... Black Miner
Thomas Poore ... Injured Black Miner
Tara Williams ... Miner's Wife
Gerald Milnes ... Fiddler
Mason Daring ... Picker
Jim Costa ... Mandolin Player
Phil Wiggins ... Harmonica Player

James Earl Jones ... Few Clothes
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jim Damron ... Fireman (uncredited)
Jason Jenkins ... Extra (uncredited)

Scott A. Martin ... Limping Miner (uncredited)
Ric Siler ... Native Miner (uncredited)
Jesse Womack ... Gun Thug (uncredited)

Directed by
John Sayles 
Writing credits
John Sayles (written by)

Produced by
Mark Balsam .... executive producer
Ira Deutchman .... associate producer
James Glenn Dudelson .... associate producer
Ned Kendall .... associate producer
Amir Jacob Malin .... executive producer
Peggy Rajski .... producer
Maggie Renzi .... producer
Jerry Silva .... executive producer
Original Music by
Mason Daring 
Cinematography by
Haskell Wexler (director of photography)
Film Editing by
Sonya Polonsky 
Casting by
Barbara Shapiro 
Production Design by
Nora Chavooshian 
Art Direction by
Dan Bishop 
Set Decoration by
Anamarie Michnevich 
Leslie A. Pope  (as Leslie Pope)
Costume Design by
Cynthia Flynt 
Makeup Department
David Halsey .... hair consultant
David Halsey .... makeup consultant
James Sarzotti .... hair stylist
James Sarzotti .... makeup artist
Production Management
Sarah Green .... assistant production manager
Diana Pokorny .... unit manager
Peggy Rajski .... production manager
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Benita Allen .... second assistant director
Matia Karrell .... first assistant director
Art Department
Daniel Boxer .... set dresser assistant
Roland Brooks .... chargeman scenic artist
Jeff Butcher .... property assistant
Jeff Butcher .... property production assistant
Howard J. Calvert Jr. .... art department troubleshooter
Jem Cohen .... property assistant
James Dean .... art department production assistant
Anthony Dunne .... construction coordinator (as Tony Dunne)
Ann Edgeworth .... property master
Daniel Fisher .... set dressing production assistant
Chris Gibbin .... art department production assistant
Nancy Gilmore .... set dresser
Brent Haywood .... set builder
Leigh Johnson .... set decorator assistant
Leigh Kyle .... head set dresser
Archie Lambert .... art department production assistant
Bill Lehne .... set builder (as William Lehne)
Pat McClinch .... scenic artist
Bill McKinney .... set dressing production assistant
Ken Nelson .... set builder
Joel Ossenfort .... scenic artist
Kim Parsons .... art department production assistant
Nelle Stokes .... set dressing production assistant (as Nell Stokes)
Sound Department
Marko A. Costanzo .... foley artist
Tom Fleischman .... sound mixer: Sound One
George A. Lara .... foley mixer
Skip Lievsay .... supervising sound editor
Marissa Littlefield .... assistant sound editor
Bruce Pross .... assistant sound editor
Lisa Schnall .... boom operator
Philip Stockton .... sound editor (as Phil Stockton)
John Sutton .... sound mixer
Christopher Weir .... assistant sound editor
Special Effects by
Shirley Belwood .... special effects
Russell Berg .... special effects
Peter Kunz .... special effects coordinator
Todd Wolfeil .... special effects
Danny Aiello III .... stunt player
Len DeVirgilio .... stunt player (as Lenny De Virgilio)
Edgard Mourino .... stunt coordinator
Gianni Lazuli .... stunt miner (uncredited)
Camera and Electrical Department
Steve Apicella .... video assist operator
Claudia Bailey .... assistant camera: second unit
Arthur Blum .... grip
Lynn Breschel .... best boy
Robert Bruce .... electrician
Stefan Czapsky .... key grip
Mitch Dubin .... camera operator
Robert K. Feldmann .... grip (as Robert Feldman)
Morris Flam .... gaffer
Sean Garrett .... grip assistant
Erica Gelczis .... grip assistant
Louisa Heyward .... electrician
Claiborne Lashley .... grip assistant (as Clai Lashley)
Luke Latino .... grip assistant
Bob Marshak .... still photographer
P. Scott Sakamoto .... first assistant camera (as Scott Sakamoto)
Debbie Sarjeant .... second assistant camera
Lee Shapira .... grip
Newton Thomas Sigel .... director of photography: second unit (as Tom Sigel)
Casting Department
Eve Battaglia .... casting assistant
Pam Flam .... casting assistant
Julie Hutchinson .... casting assistant
Avy Kaufman .... additional casting
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Gabriele Campbell .... wardrobe production assistant
Connie Lucas .... wardrobe production assistant
Susan Lyall .... assistant to costume designer
Holly Scarborough .... wardrobe production assistant
Heidi Shulman .... wardrobe supervisor
Editorial Department
David Leonard .... apprentice editor
Geraldine Peroni .... assistant editor
Music Department
Leanne Ungar .... music engineer
Leanne Ungar .... music mixer
Transportation Department
E.W. 'Sonny' Adkins .... driver (as Sonny Adkins)
Mark Moore .... driver: generator
Roscoe Thomas .... driver
Other crew
Beth Bernstein .... office production assistant
Libby Bika .... office production assistant
Buddy Brewer .... set production assistant
Sandy Cox .... craft service
Cilista Eberle .... production office coordinator
Davide Ferrario .... dialogue coach: Italian
Vincent Gratzer .... intern (as Vince Gratzer)
Robert Grindrod .... assistant auditor
Andrea Gustke .... intern
David Hollander .... legal counsel
Greg Jacobs .... set production assistant
Sara Malossini .... dialogue coach: Italian
Paul Marcus .... coordinator: second unit
Paul Marcus .... location manager
Pat McCarthy .... assistant office coordinator
Ralph Renzi .... set production assistant
John Sloss .... legal counsel
Barbara-Ann Stein .... auditor
John Tintori .... script supervisor
Brian Wenk .... set production assistant

Production CompaniesDistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
135 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:

Did You Know?

The first John Sayles film to get Oscar nominated that being for the Best Cinematography Academy Award for Haskell Wexler but the picture did not win for this.See more »
Anachronisms: The steam locomotive used in "Matewan" was ex-New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railway ("Nickel Plate Road") #765. It was a modern steam locomotive built in the 1940's and thus would not have existed at the time of the events depicted in "Matewan."See more »
[about the owner of the Baldwin-Felts agency:]
Sid Hatfield:I've met Mr. Felts. I wouldn't pee on him if his heart was on fire.
See more »
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21 out of 22 people found the following review useful.
"We're Gonna Have The Union!", 24 May 2000
Author: Michael Coy ( from London, England

In the West Virginian coalfields in the 1920's, a group of miners is determined to organise itself into a labour union. The mine owners are equally determined to prevent this from happening.

John Sayles is a truly admirable film-maker. For three decades now he has been making intelligent and eminently watchable movies, turning down Hollywood's money in order to preserve his artistic independence. He often takes a small acting role in his films - and acquits himself more than competently. In "Leanna" he played the predatory college lecturer, and here he is the 'hardshell' baptist preacher. He gives quite a performance.

West Virginia's misty greenness and steep, wooded slopes are evoked beautifully. The shabby rail depot where the shoot-out takes place is a genuine West Virginian location. The feel for both period and place is created with loving sensitivity. Director of Photography Haskell Wexler has done a great job (look out for the terrific train shot). There is a persuasive grittiness and realism about all of the images, and especially the climactic gun battle, that is utterly absorbing. The music which accompanies the action contains authentic vernacular songs, in perfect keeping with what is in essence a true story.

In the first years of the twentieth century, mine workers in West Virginia lived in abject poverty. Subjected to the 'truck' system, they were paid, not in cash, but in company credits. They had no choice but to spend their wages at the company store, where the mine owners dictated the prices. On top of this, each worker was obliged to buy his own tools and to pay for wash-house facilities.

Into the community of Matewan comes a saintly stranger, Joe Kenehan (played by Chris Cooper). Kenehan is a deserter from Levenworth, a conscientious objector who has taken to the creed of socialism with almost religious fervour. Sent by the union as an emissary, Kenehan's task is to win the confidence of the people and to educate them in the ways of organised labour.

If Kenehan is a symbol of enlightened socialism, 'Few Clothes' Johnson (James Earl Jones) represents the true working-class hero. Few Clothes understands mining more deeply than his bosses ever will. Though he is now in his 50's, his fine body remains immensely strong. This good and gentle man does not like violence, but he will fight to protect his people against their natural enemies - the agents of the mine owners.

Sayles' first-class screenplay cleverly exploits the religious imagery which suffuses the language of these simple, God-fearing folk. The film makes the point that the 'getting' of socialism is a form of religious conversion. Kenehan is a wandering missionary, rather like a biblical prophet, preaching the salvation of collective bargaining. He is an alternative to the preachers, bringing Revelation to the miners, "puttin' the spirit into 'em". Little wonder that Bridey Mae Tolliver (Nancy Mette), the would-be seductress, is seen by the locals in terms of the Old Testament story of Joseph and Potiphar.

The tale is narrated by Davey, the boy preacher whose sheer humanity draws him into the workers' fold. In this wilderness west of the Shenandoah Valley, two broad movements have developed within the baptist faith - hardshell and softshell. The hardshell preachers dispense a strict, unyielding brand of christianity which is unsympathetic to the miners' cause - after all, there is the parable of the toilers in the vineyard. Davey is a softshell preacher, a believer in the brotherhood of man who interprets Christ's message as an exhortation to kindness.

And then there are the Italians. The immigrants speak little English, do not integrate and are (initially, at least) indifferent to the nascent union agitation. They are exploited by the mine owners as unwitting strike breakers. It is through the womenfolk that the antipathy between Americans and Italians is overcome. At first, the women are every bit as hostile towards one another as the men, as shown in the clashes between Rosaria and Mrs. Elkins (Maggie Renzi and Jo Henderson, long-time collaborators with Sayles). However, the great dramas of human life - birth, mourning, and the never-ending struggle to feed their families - draw the women together. The workers realise that far more united them than divides them. "I figure we're all in this together." The Italian miners join the strike.

Hired vigilantes have arrived in town, company men with the express intention of breaking the strike. Their ugly presence sparks trouble, and the escalation of tensions begins, leading to gut-wrenching violence. This tension is superbly conveyed in the scene where the night shift of strike-breakers enters the mine.

At one point, semi-wild hillfolk intervene to drive off Hickey and Griggs, company vigilantes who are terrorising defenceless miners. Sayles' point is that the true Americans know instinctively where right and wrong lie in this conflict. They are the natural allies of the miners.

Sid Hatfield, the law officer of Matewan (played by David Strathairn), is a good man in the great tradition of lawmen. He sees his vocation in simple, powerful terms - to protect his people. When the final confrontation comes, the choice that he makes is one of the most stirring events in a film charged with emotion.

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