Drama lacks the pas­sion of a good fight

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

IT’S a feud that lasted decades and re­sulted in dozens of lives lost and buck­ets of spilled blood. Sim­ply put, the Hat­fields and the Mc­coys didn’t get along.

But there’s one thing they might have been able to agree on, if they’d been given the abil­ity to gaze for­ward into the fu­ture: the be­yond-leg­endary story of their long-sim­mer­ing con­flict de­serves a slightly bet­ter minis­eries drama­ti­za­tion than the one that be­gins Mon­day on His­tory TV.

De­spite a stel­lar cast, metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to pe­riod de­tail, a seem­ingly rich pro­duc­tion bud­get and an ex­pan­sive three-part, six-hour time frame in which to tell its tale, Hat­fields & Mc­coys (which pre­mieres Mon­day at 7 p.m. on His­tory) is bound to leave view­ers feel­ing quite in­dif­fer­ent about a story that his­tory re­calls as be­ing driven by the most in­tense, per­sonal and toxic of pas­sions.

The im­pres­sive cast of Hat­fields & Mc­coys is led by Kevin Cost­ner, who plays “Devil” Anse Hat­field, and Bill Pax­ton, who por­trays Ran­dall Mccoy. In this telling, the two men — whose clans oc­cupy ad­ja­cent land on op­po­site sides of the West Virginia/ken­tucky bor­der (as di­vided by the Tug River) — are life­long friends whose re­la­tion­ship goes sour dur­ing the wan­ing weeks of the U.S. Civil War.

Hat­field, a proven bat­tle­field hero for the Con­fed­er­ate cause, grows weary of the lost-cause fight­ing and dy­ing and de­cides to pack up and head home. Mccoy, too, knows the South has lost the war, but his sense of duty com­pels him to stay with his com­rades un­til the bit­ter end.

By the time Devil makes the long trek home, ten­sions have al­ready reached a dan­ger­ous level be­tween the two clans. De­spite his steady­ing in­flu­ence as he re­claims con­trol of the ex­tended fam­ily’s log­ging busi­ness, the more vi­o­lent (and less as­tute) mem­bers of the back­woods Hat­fields con­tinue an es­ca­lat­ing se­ries of eye-for-an-eye at­tacks and coun­ter­at­tacks against the

Star­ring Kevin Cos­nter, Bill Pax­ton, Mare Win­ning­ham, Pow­ers Boothe and Tom Berenger Mon­day at 7 p.m. His­tory

½ out of five Mc­coys.

Devil tries to re-es­tab­lish his friend­ship with Ran­dall when the lat­ter makes his even­tual re­turn, but Ran­dall can­not and will not for­give his neigh­bour for hav­ing aban­doned the fight. And his bit­ter­ness over the fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages Hat­field has gained by quit­ting the war early will only con­tinue to grow.

Still, both men would pre­fer a civ­i­lized ap­proach to their dis­agree­ment, but blood-re­venge-bent rel­a­tives keep mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion messy. And just when it seems that the feud can’t get any worse, young Johnse Hat­field (Matt Barr) goes and falls in love with Ran­dall’s daugh­ter, Rosanna (Lind­say Pul­sipher).

This ver­sion of the Hat­field-mccoy skir­mish isn’t just a run-and-gun en­counter; egged on by dis­tant re­la­tion and col­lege-smart lawyer Perry Cline (Ro­nan Vib­ert), the Mc­coys also start drag­ging the Hat­fields into court to seek le­gal rem­edy to some of their griev­ances — a process made rather more dif­fi­cult by the fact the lo­cal judge is Wall Hat­field (Pow­ers Boothe), who tries his earnest best to be fair, but, well, he’s a Hat­field.

It’s an in­tractably nasty sit­u­a­tion, punc­tu­ated by right­ful anger, mis­in­formed ac­cu­sa­tions and ever-es­ca­lat­ing vig­i­lante vi­o­lence.

The strange thing about Hat­fields & Mc­coys is that the minis­eries drama plays out with­out much in the way of emo­tion. It isn’t just a mat­ter of 19th-cen­tury moun­tain men be­ing stiff-lipped types; the feud, its par­tic­i­pants and the deep-rooted mo­ti­va­tions that drive them are all por­trayed in such a cold, de­tached man­ner that it’s hard for view­ers to feel in­vested in the story.

It’s a great-look­ing his­tor­i­cal yarn, filled with A-list ac­tors ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing solid dra­matic per­for­mances, but the script lacks emo­tional nu­ance and there­fore falls flat.

And while that’s rather dis­ap­point­ing, and likely to prompt view­ers to tune out, it’s hardly worth fight­ing about.

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