Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter stars as Ruby, the wife of a coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky. After two senseless deaths, the union calls a strike against the mining company. What follows is one of the mos... more »t violent, bitter and notorious union battles in history. With no end to the violence in sight, Ruby decides to fight the company her own way.« less
"Top rating deserved for subject matter and positive portrayal of unsung heroes, but falls short of hitting pure excellence in lack of research and failure to film in Kentucky. Holly Hunter would have won the Golden Globe if she had been allowed to spend any time in Kentucky before filming. The many Emmy nominations suggest true grandeur if the movie had actually been about the intended subject matter instead of Tony Bill deciding what he thought had happened.
The time line, scenery, and vocabulary were the most disturbing errors.
If they had gone to the actual place, they would have known that it does not take long for the women to get riled, and they take up sticks much faster than suggested. There are still laws on the books that compare the danger of a Kentucky woman with a stick versus two men with guns. Also, the incident of people walking up to each other and shooting them dead without comment was ridiculously downplayed. There was and is much more "just as soon shoot ya as look at ya" going on, and these are men of action not words.
Most painful was when Hunter looks out and comments that she has seen the same "mountains" all her life (and has only been to Lexington once). The scene shows a Canadian scene completely foreign to Kentucky instead of the Appalachians that are unusually beautiful in those parts. Everyone knows they are "hills" and that is what they are called. Lexington is referred to as the city, and young girls get out that way more often than once per lifetime. When a Kentucky woman looks out her kitchen window and says "its like heaven come right down to earth," it is obvious why she never wanted to be anyplace else, and that is what the movie lacks.
Other strange points include the presentation of hog brains as a delicacy. Maybe squirrel brains, but on the hog, the common thing would be the Rocky Mountain Oysters. Also, the repeated reference to "moon shine" although it is called white lightening or mountain dew (moon shining is bootlegging, and has a different connotation). The most ridiculous is when the one wife says her cover for sneaking out is to borrow some "pinto beans" from Hunter, but a pinto is a horse. I mean, everyone knows what "soup beans" are, but I do not think anyone ever heard the word pinto used to describe a bean in Kentucky. The director allowed several similar word choices that would have been corrected by having ever been there.
The movie has a wise old relative come up from Knoxville to remind the women that they used to call it Bloody Harlan. HELLO, Bloody Harlan & Bloody Breathitt, two of the four counties that never had to draft a man because they signed up 100% to go kill the enemy and still trade number one positions as the highest per capita murder rates in the nation. If the director had ever been there, he woulda knowed that.
Other than that, the movie was first rate. Whatever money was saved by filming in Toronto, would have been recouped by actually filming in Harlan."
Steve Olshewsky | 01/14/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am from Harlan County KY, and I actually liked this movie. I think Holly Hunter did an excellent job! My father worked at Brookside, as well as my husband, only now the company is Manalapan. Coal miners and their families do have a tough life, then and now, I think the movie portrayed that very well."
An Excellent Realistic Portrayal
Warren W. Carter | Gallatin, Tennessee United States | 03/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My grand father and and uncles worked in the coal mines of Harlan County Kentucky. Black Mountain, Red Bud, Shields, Highsplint, Evarts, Loyal, Brookside, Baxter, and Insull mines. They lived hard and difficult lives.
I am 52 years old and can remember visiting them as a child when they lived in the coal mine camp housing. The mining companies owned everything including the grocery store. Tennessee Ernie Ford said it in his song, "16 Tons". "I owe my soul to the company store."
My grand father suffered from black lung. Two of my uncles lost thier lives from a cave in while working in the coal mines. This movie hits the nail on the head. It is actually toned down from the real bloodshed those people faced at Brookside, Ky..
Holly Hunter's acting and accent is so believable. This movie should have been awarded an Oscar for best picture. It's a must have for every DVD library."
Best :Labor Documentary with Moving Plot: Fine Acting
Dr. Alan D. Kardoff | palm bay, fl | 06/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have seen countless movies that are either total documentary or based on facts of true events. Certainly Brando's "On the Waterfront" had as much impact on society and labor-management relations as any single film made. "Victory at Sea" and Ken Burns latest series "The War" are also superb presentations but factual. "Shoah" is best series on the Holocaust.
Harlan County War shows a battle that was bitterly fought and finally resolved. The union gave it but its tactics forced concessions from Duke Power Co. and other firms. There is a movie about Hormel strike in MN involving Spam. Tactics used there were timid and there was no tie-in plot. "Norma Rae" a great film comes close yet her 'solo' effort with the union organizer loses a bit of the big picture.
Holly Hunter can't be held down once she sees her father die from black lung disease and her husband laid off, along with scores of others. The company's spy and goon tactics were revealing and true. "Hoffa" shows some of these. Harlan County War involves a whole community, united in a solo cause. When only three men can picket the mine entrance, women and their children lie on the roads. When some miners' homes are bulldozed and others vandalized, all stick together. Community cohesiveness is outstanding. The plot and acting are superb. So is the photography and direction. And when there is a final cruel act near the film's end, even the company recognizes some concessions must be made. Then the miners go back to eating coal dust while performing back-breaking work. The film has a beginning, middle and ending, although the solution to one problem leads to another. Family respect is shown clearly: This is something vastly lacking today.
I rate this film 5*****. I have not seen a better one of its ilk. I will watch it again and can share my copy.
Good, not great
A. G. Reed | Welch, WV | 02/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a fictionalized version of the documentary, Harlan County USA. It's okay, but highly staged... the "mountain dancing" scene was a little too theatrical. For some reason, the director felt it was necessary to include a gratuitous sex scene, so it rules out showing it for educational purposes in school or church. Not bad, though."