Shotguns, moonshine, young love and bad blood: America’s most notorious feud was a miniseries waiting to happen.
Granted, that’s a lot of chronicling. Midway through I felt stuck on a limb in someone else’s family tree.
But in director Kevin Reynolds’s straightforward telling, “Hatfields & McCoys” has a bit of the old-fashioned appeal of a classic network miniseries. No “Deadwood” cool here.
Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star as the dueling patriarchs, former friends who fell out during the Civil War. Land disputes and petty lawsuits escalate to bloodshed through the post-war decades, the scope of the mayhem attaining national attention and forever tying the family names together.
Paxton takes full advantage of his juicier role as Randall McCoy, a war camp survivor with a taste for vengeance and hellfire religion. Mare Winningham plays his woebegone wife (and gives the series’ most effective, vanity-free performance).
Too much time is handed over to prettier-than-likely Matt Barr and Lindsay Pulsipher as the mountain’s answer to Romeo and Juliet, while other characters (Boyd Holbrook’s one-eyed crack-shot Cap Hatfield, Tom Berenger’s snake-mean Uncle Jim Vance) go undeveloped.
Costner, a producer of the series, is his usual dour self. History to the contrary, his feuding seems driven less by passion and revenge than unshakeable grumpiness.
“Hatfields & McCoys” airs tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday on History at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
‘Hemingway & Gellhorn’
The digital wizardry hasn’t been invented that could justify inserting Nicole Kidman’s 21st-century face into harrowing newsreel footage of the concentration camp at Dachau and other WWII atrocity sites.
Kidman plays Martha Gellhorn, the pioneering war correspondent remembered mostly, if unfairly, for her brief battleground of a marriage to Ernest Hemingway, here portrayed by Clive Owen as an abusive, bespectacled blowhard.
Directed by Philip Kaufman (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”), “Hemingway & Gellhorn” follows the literary super duo from the shell-shocked fields of the Spanish civil war through the bedrooms of Key West.
Screenwriters Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner leave few Hemingwayisms unsaid. So we have Papa muttering about “grace under pressure” while watching the anti-Fascists fight. He never actually asks for whom the bell tolls. That’s left to a dinner companion.
Any veneer of historical accuracy is undone by the film’s howling phoniness, beginning with the hard-boiled dialogue. “I won’t see you destroyed by some...some...Gellhorn!” screams an irate Pauline Hemingway (Molly Parker) to her cheating husband.
Too late, of course. Papa is already smitten, having watched (as we do, thanks to the “Zelig”-like special effects) Gellhorn dodge the generalissimo’s bombs to rescue a baby.
What possessed Kaufman to attempt this trickery is anyone’s guess. The image of Kidman and Owen --- and we can’t pretend they’re anyone else -- chatting up the real Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt is nearly as ludicrous as Kidman, in fatigues, storming the beaches of Normandy.
“Hemingway & Gellhorn” airs on HBO Monday at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: *
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
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