7.9/10
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Matewan (1987)

PG-13 | | Drama, History | 30 June 1988 (Australia)
A labor union organizer comes to an embattled mining community brutally and violently dominated and harassed by the mining company.

Director:

John Sayles

Writer:

John Sayles
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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 Jo Henderson ... Mrs. Elkins
Josh Mostel ... Cabell Testerman
Gary McCleery Gary McCleery ... Ludie
Maggie Renzi Maggie Renzi ... Rosaria
Learn more

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Photos

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Storyline

Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and the gun thugs of the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. UMWA organizer and dual-card Wobbly Joe Kenehan determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. While Kenehan and his story are fictional, the setting and the dramatic climax are historical; Sid Hatfield, Cabell C. Testerman, C. E. Lively and the Felts brothers were real-life participants, and 'Few Clothes' is based on a character active several years previously. Written by Susan C. Mitchell <susanm@indirect.com>, expanded by Silverwhistle

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

At the coal company they use you until you wear out See more »

Genres:

Drama | History

Certificate:

PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The movie was actually filmed in a town in central West Virginia known as Thurmond. This town is located on the New River. It is about 100 miles from the real city of Matewan. See more »

Goofs

In the scene where the coal company executives are trying to bribe the Mayor and Sid Hatfield, the calendar behind the mayor reads September 1920. The historical shootout at the climax occurred in May of 1920, four months beforehand. See more »

Quotes

Sid Hatfield: I take care of my people. You bring 'em trouble, and you're a dead man. Sleep tight, Kenehan.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Head of the Class: Fatal Distraction (1988) See more »

Soundtracks

FIRE IN THE HOLE
Lyrics by John Sayles and Mason Daring
Music by Mason Daring
(c) 1987 Daring Music/ASCAP
Sung by Hazel Dickens
See more »

User Reviews

One of the great narratives of the 80's
28 January 2011 | by chaos-rampantSee all my reviews

After a streak of Godard films that left me a little exhausted, I was looking for a big narrative to immerse myself in, a film where artifice does not jump to our attention but is transparent and the world of the film believable. I immediately remembered about John Sayles and his nouvellas of cinema. With Lone Star I bemoaned the lack of a visual imagination, but coming to a Sayles film for a narrative like I did with Matewan, I leave completely satisfied. The man excels in telling us stories with scope and values of importance.

What a lovely world he creates here, among the derelict shacks and cabins of the Pennsylvania foothills of Matewan a moral struggle is fought, flawed characters with faces blackened by coaldust fumble with great ideals and big hopes for a better future, and the one thing that stands between them and justice is their own prejudice. I like how the film suggests that for the collective to be reformed the individual must be reformed first, that we need to look inwards first before we make a stand. The stand in the film is heroic but also desperate, a bit of a lawless old West on the way to emancipation. John Sayles is a leftist and this comes across loud and clear in Matewan, but unlike a Godard film like Week End, Sayles doesn't call for blood, he calls for social justice.

The narrative here sprawls in and out of log cabins where sullen faces plot strikes and discuss ideals, in and out of makeshift tents and muddy town streets where coalminers live and die and sing, now a fiddle or harmonica is calling out from the dark the sad tune of a life of suffering, and the finale is sealed with a shootout filled with tragedy and hope. Sayles' camera doesn't intrude in any of this, rather it's invited in and hankers down out of way to quietly listen or conspire.

Matewan makes a great doublebill with Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, another forlorn drama of the oppressed that speaks of moral devastation in the Pennsylvania coal fields, but more, it stands by itself as one of the great American narratives of the 80's.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Italian

Release Date:

30 June 1988 (Australia) See more »

Also Known As:

Matewan See more »

Filming Locations:

West Virginia, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$23,850, 30 August 1987

Gross USA:

$1,680,358

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$1,680,358
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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