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This is the story of a 1920 coal-mine strike.
In the rich umbers of Haskell Wexler's cinematography, Matewan does look great.
Sayles must have meant his movie to stir and provoke, but the self-contained look of it yields something else -- a sense of quaintness, of harmless nostalgia.
The film is beautifully shot (by veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler) and works not just as a tense drama, but also as a fascinating recreation of the shifting politics of the the 1920s, where workers' rights blurred with socialism.
If Sayles's bite were as lethal as his bark, he might have given this a harder edge and a stronger conclusion. But the performances are uniformly fine.
When this movie stumbles, it stumbles honestly and sympathetically, but, when it succeeds, it makes history sing.
This thoughtful film is real in every respect, right down to the plaintive sound of a country woman`s ballad.
In its grave clarity, it's as pure and plaintive as a mountain ballad.
The movie works the way Westerns have always worked: In clear, simple terms and with straightforward dramatic devices.
John Sayles' period piece is an ambitious drama of union making and union breaking in the 1920a
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