Independent filmmaker John Sayles' 1987 labor flick "Matewan" doesn't make it to the small screen very often. Too bad: it's a pretty good movie with a great all-star cast: Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, Kevin Tighe, Will Oldham, and David Strathairn (as the un-Bob-Fletcher, local chief of police Sid Hatfield), underscored by Haskell Wexler's cinematography and Hazel Dickens' hill singing. Worth checking out if you haven't seen it.
Since it's Labor Day, here's a great clip about organizing (see if you can spot the agent provocateur):
Wikipedia notes the film's critical reception:
The staff at Variety magazine lauded the acting in the film, writing, "Matewan is a heartfelt, straight-ahead tale of labor organizing in the coal mines of West Virginia in 1920 that runs its course like a train coming down the track. Among the memorable characters is Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a young union organizer who comes to Matewan to buck the bosses. With his strong face and Harrison Ford good-looks, Cooper gives the film its heartbeat...Most notable of the black workers is 'Few Clothes' Johnson (James Earl Jones), a burly good-natured man with a powerful presence and a quick smile. Jones' performance practically glows in the dark. Also a standout is Sayles veteran David Strathairn as the sheriff with quiet integrity who puts his life on the line."
Film critic Vincent Canby lauded the acting and the cinematography in the film and wrote in his review, "There's not a weak performance in the film, but I especially admired the work of Mr. Cooper, Mr. Tighe, Miss McDonnell, Miss Mette, Mr. Gunton, Mr. Strathairn and Mr. Mostel. They may be playing Social-Realist icons, but each manages to make something personal and idiosyncratic out of the material, without destroying the ballad-like style. For the most part, Haskell Wexler's photography doesn't go overboard in finding poetry in the images."
Critic Desson Howe liked the look of the film and wrote, "Cinematographer Haskell Wexler etches the characters in dark charcoal against a misty background. You get the feeling of dirt, sweat and -- despite the story's mythic intentions -- the grim grey struggle of it all. . .
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on seventeen reviews.
For our film class at the Ozark Famous Writers School, we picked Sayles as our topic for the big director term paper. Good times--that left us with this thing for Davis Strathairn.