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Hatfields & McCoys
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
What's the story?
Devil Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner) and Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton) are Civil War comrades at the beginning of the six-hour miniseries HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, the historically accurate saga of a legendary feud between two families along the Tug River in Kentucky and West Virginia. First Hatfield's desertion, than a series of double crosses and reprisals, sets a deadly chain of events into motion as Hatfields murder McCoys and then McCoys murder Hatfields in the name of honor and family loyalty. A true-to-life subplot involves a Romeo-and-Juliet relationship between Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher) and Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr). Hatfield impregnates McCoy out of wedlock, and after the two families refuse their request to marry, abandons her for her cousin, Nancy McCoy (Jena Malone). That betrayal and Johnse's relationship with Nancy figures into the climactic ending of both the miniseries and the real-life feud, as vengeful Hatfields shoot up and then burn the McCoy family house to the ground.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the roots of the Hatfield/McCoy conflict, which often centered on positively ridiculous items such as a stolen pig. The McCoys saw the conflict as being over honor, not the pig. Is there a time in your life when you've fought over something other saw as silly but you saw as worthwhile, maybe even noble?
In trying to get back at their rivals, the Hatfields and McCoys each lost many beloved family members. Considering the price they paid, was the feud worth it? Can you think of any other examples from recent history or from your own life when you "won the battle, yet lost the war?"
Hatfields & McCoys make it difficult for the viewer to decide which characters are the heroes and which the villains. Do you see differences in the way the Hatfields and the McCoys are characterized through dialogue, costumes, music or other cues? Why do you think the filmmaker chose not to take sides in the feud by depicting one side as noble and right?
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