Feud­ing in them thar hills

Kevin Cost­ner and Bill Pax­ton talk about Hat­fields, writes Neal Justin of Star Tri­bune

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION - Hat­fields & McCoy: Satur­days, 8.30pm, Show­case.

NEXT time you think about storm­ing over to your neigh­bours’ house to com­plain about their loud mu­sic, take a break – a six-hour break – to watch Hat­fields & McCoys, an ex­haus­tive recre­ation of one of the most fa­mous feuds in Amer­i­can his­tory.

The bat­tle, which be­gan in the af­ter­math of the Civil War in West Vir­ginia and Kentucky, has been ref­er­enced in ev­ery­thing from Mark Twain’s Huck­le­berry Finn to Way­lon Jen­nings’ Luck­en­bach, Texas, but it’s largely been dis­missed as a squab­ble over a stolen pig be­tween two clans of hill­bil­lies.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Kevin Cost­ner, who plays Devil Anse Hat­field (right), be­lieved there was so much more to the story he in­sisted on a three-night mini-se­ries and even recorded an al­bum of songs in­spired by the film.

He was de­ter­mined to take a deeper look at a tale that shows us it can take decades, if not a cen­tury, for a coun­try to re­cover from fight­ing with it­self.

‘‘I could have cut it down or just told one side of the story, but we de­cided to paint the whole can­vas,’’ says Cost­ner, who hired his Waterworld col­lab­o­ra­tor Kevin Reynolds to di­rect.

Cost­ner, whose only pre­vi­ous TV ex­pe­ri­ence was a 1985 episode of Amaz­ing Sto­ries, said it wasn’t hard ad­just­ing to a medium that usu­ally al­lows fewer shoot­ing days and smaller bud­gets. ‘‘It’s al­ways the same. ‘‘You’re go­ing as fast as you can go,’’ he says. The pro­duc­tion scrimped by shoot­ing in Ro­ma­nia, where the Civil War film Cold Moun­tain was filmed a decade ago.

The film opens in 1862, with Hat­field and Ran­dall McCoy (Bill Pax­ton), who hailed from neigh­bour­ing towns, fight­ing side by side for the Con­fed­er­ate Army and even sav­ing each other’s lives in a bloody bat­tle. (Cost­ner in­sists the friend­ship is his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate; Pax­ton isn’t so sure.) Soon af­ter the bat­tle, Hat­field breaks camp and heads back to the fam­ily busi­ness in West Vir­ginia, a move that angers the deeply re­li­gious and pa­tri­otic McCoy.

‘‘God hates de­sert­ers,’’ he growls as he con­tem­plates shoot­ing his fel­low sol­dier.

Hat­field is warmly wel­comed by his wife and his tim­ber busi­ness takes off, mak­ing him a rich and pow­er­ful force.

McCoy isn’t so lucky. Af­ter spend­ing the rest of the war in an Ohio prison, he re­turns home to find his fam­ily strug­gling to make ends meet and mourn­ing his brother, killed in a bar fight by Hat­field’s quick­tem­pered un­cle (Tom Berenger). Re­venge be­comes a daily sport. By the time the dust set­tles decades later, no one can re­ally re­mem­ber what they were fight­ing about in the first place.

‘‘There’s a real moral les­son here,’’ says Pax­ton, best known for play­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of re­li­gious pa­tri­arch in the US drama se­ries Big Love.

‘‘You have to be care­ful about ob­ses­sion and ha­tred and let­ting your pride get the best of you.

‘‘It’s very Old Tes­ta­ment stuff. An eye for an eye, I kill your brother, you kill my fa­ther. You for­get what started it.’’

Rifts from the Civil War con­tinue to this day, Pax­ton said, not­ing that the coun­try re­mains po­lit­i­cally di­vided into red (Repub­li­can) and blue (Demo­cratic) states.

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