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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Intense family loyalty is the best aspect of these warring clans, though that loyalty is prized over common sense, forgiveness, and kindness. Characters talk a lot about things like honor and respect, but the wanton disregard for human life sends another message. Nonetheless, the strife between the families is not glamorized and there are devastating consequences for every foolish or violent action.
Positive Role Models
Characters are realistically complex; it's hard to tell the "good" characters from the "bad" since they'll do something unspeakably evil right after acting nobly. Evildoing is always swiftly punished and every act has consequences; the audience also understands why these characters are so vengeful and violent even as you may shout "No! No!" at the screen.
Violence & Scariness
Gore is not at horror-movie levels, but the violence depicted is extremely disturbing, i.e. the sudden violent death of family members, young children who discover their father's dead body, wartime casualties (not much blood is shown) including a young boy, a murder that ends up with the deceased stabbed in the crotch, a group of murderers surrounds a sleeping family and shoots into the house, then burns it to the ground.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A forbidden romance fuels much of the resentment between the two families. The young lovers are shown slipping into bed together with implied nudity; later, the woman says it was her "first time." That same character ends up pregnant and abandoned by her family. Married characters are shown kissing and discussing lovemaking in terms that may embarrass some families: "Spill your seed outside me as I cannot bear another birth."
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Characters curse frequently and colorfully: "Go piss on your Yankee jacket," "those s--theel McCoys." One character is accused for using his dog as a "whore" and "fornicating" with it. Kids may also learn vintage insults and curses like "you're a huckleberry over a persimmon" or "consarn it."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Multiple scenes take place in saloons and the drunken characters make awful decisions. Anse Hatfield chews tobacco and spits brown streams frequently; many characters smoke.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hatfields & McCoys is an epic, six-hour saga that centers on a bloody feud between two families. The film opens mid-Civil War battle, and the tension never lets up, as two former comrades-in-arms fall into a dispute that leads to a huge squabble between their families. The violence is frequent and disturbing: A young boy, wounded in battle, begs to be shot and put out of his mercy; family members you've gotten to know are suddenly and brutally murdered; women and children cry pitifully at the death of family patriarchs. However, the violence isn't one bit glamorized, but instead has real emotional weight that will convince most viewers that the entire feud was something ridiculous that got out of hand. Parents can use the miniseries to illustrate a great number of useful ideas, such as duty, loyalty, and the human cost of conflict. As well as the simmering violence, there are some sexy scenes that may make some families uncomfortable, chief amongst them a scene with two lovers having illicit sex in the same room as a sleeping young girl, and one where a wife asks her husband to "spill his seed" outside of her body so that she doesn't become pregnant. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Civil War buffs in particular will be panting over all the old timeyness of Hatfields & McCoys. Horses! Really long guns! Fireworks that are produced by putting gunpowder on a tree stump and then hitting it with an axe! The filmmakers don't make a fetish of the times; this is not Colonial Williamsburg, televised. But it does give a particular shine to the proceedings, as does the knowledge that what the viewer is watching really happened. Though the show calls to mind The Sopranos, the true-life factor makes all the ugliness more palatable.
There is also a lot of cinematic candy to make the brutality and dirt sweeter, most particularly the setting in rolling Kentucky hills and the easy-on-the-eyes actors playing Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield. You could imagine them appearing in the Civil War version of Tiger Beat. As the family patriarchs, Paxton and Costner give emotional weight to the drama; they just seem like guys that a bunch of goofy family members would want to listen to. And as Sally McCoy, Randall McCoy's wife, Mare Winningham is so appealing that the very end of the story is unbearably poignant, effectively hammering home the "it wasn't worth it" message of the series. Meaty, realistic, and affecting, Hatfields & McCoys grabs the viewer on a level no history textbook could match.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.