The story of the Hatfield–McCoy feud is what legends and folklore are born out of. The amazing tale about a hostile and sometimes violent quarrel between two family clans along the border of West Virginia and Kentucky has etched itself into the American collective conscience. Lasting over twenty years, costing the lives of more than a dozen people from both sides and nearly igniting another Civil War, the feud has become a metaphoric expression and idiom representing familial loyalty and retaliation, used facetiously when two rival groups clash out of a misconstrued sense of pride. Their story, especially the Shakespearian romance of Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy, can be seen in a variety of media, from the classic Keaton comedy 'Our Hospitality' and a Disney animated short to being parodied in Mark Twain's iconic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and supposedly serving as inspiration to the 'Family Feud' game show.
The latest telling of this larger than life battle is a three-part miniseries from The History Channel network, 'Hatfields & McCoys,' taking a more historical-detailed approach to the events which have left an indelible mark in U.S. history. Starring Kevin Costner as "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Bill Paxton as "Ole Ran'l" McCoy, the story commences pretty much as expected with the first incident which instigated the feud: the murder of Asa Harmon McCoy, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War and hated by many in his hometown for doing so. Story goes that one of the Hatfields did it, but no one was ever officially arrested. In this docudrama, however, the script by Ted Mann and Ronald Parker leaves nothing to speculation and places the blame squarely on Jim Vance (an unrecognizable Tom Berenger), a Hatfield always rumored to be the most likely suspect.
It's not exactly true to known facts, but it's neither inaccurate either. And isn't it always just the case, in order to relate a fictionalized tale based on history, certain artistic liberties must be taken for dramatic effect, to engage viewers on a more entertaining level. That's not in any way a fault within the narrative, just a simple observation. A necessary one, in fact, for this small piece of history which has grown to myth-like proportions, an epic tale that spanned three decades, meaning there is a whole lot to cover even in a six-hour television series. And Kevin Reynolds, the director of other such highly ambitious projects as 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,' 'Waterworld' and 'The Count of Monte Cristo,' turns out to be the right man for the job, filling in the first episode with as much as possible the conflicts which divided the two families without overcrowding or weighing down the allotted time.
Reynolds has a great eye for this, lingering just long enough on the right moments which seem to foreshadow greater doom for either family, then hurrying the pace during some of the minor squabbles which weirdly grew to bigger issues. For those familiar with the legend, the argument over the pig, which led to a heated courtroom fiasco, comically but also tragically became the final straw that ignited the war, and Reynolds treats the matter with gravitas and lighthearted humor. Going into the second episode, both families already scarred by the forbidden affair of Johnse (Matt Barr) and Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher), bad blood suddenly turns vengeful during a desperate act of vigilante justice. It's a significant moment in the story which forever ruined the possibility of settling their differences and finding peace. The matter escalates in the final act with two more senseless murders, a day referred to as New Year's Night Massacre, calling for another desperate move — a posse run by vicious gunslinger "Bad" Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard in a brilliant portrayal).
With stunning panoramic views of Romania's untouched mountainous valleys thanks to cinematographer Arthur Reinhart and excellent editing by Don Cassidy, Reynolds's 'Hatfields & McCoys' is a captivating saga about loyalty, vengeance and the type of pride which can eat away at one's soul, consuming it with hate. Admittedly, the three-part miniseries starts off a bit rough and somewhat slow, but by the end of the first act, things rapidly pick up as minor disagreements quickly intensify into bloody retaliations. I have to give credit to the filmmakers for abstaining from judgment of either family or the tendency to have viewers agree with one over the other. With Costner and Paxton in the leads, giving some of their best performances in years, both families are given equal attention as victims and instigators of their own doom. Also a standout is Mare Winningham as the McCoy matriarch. It's a wonderfully absorbing series, and those unfamiliar with the legend will learn a great deal about this unique event in U.S. history.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Hatfields & McCoys' to Blu-ray as a two-disc package with a glossy cardboard slipcover. Housed inside a blue eco-lite vortex case, the two Region A locked, BD50 discs sit comfortably on opposing panels. First two episodes are on the first disc while the second contains the final chapter and bonus material. After a few skippable trailers and promos, viewers are greeted by the standard main menu selection with full motion clips and music.
The 'Hatfields & McCoys' take their feud to Blu-ray with a fantastic and highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1). The grain in the wood architecture is plainly distinct, foliage of the surrounding trees is razor-sharp and the threading on the various costumes shows excellent lifelike texture. Dirt, pores and trivial blemishes on the faces of actors are naturally resolved and visible. You can clearly make out every wrinkle on Costner and Paxton's aging glares, even count every hair atop their heads or each whisker of their beards if you so please.
Filmed entirely on the Red Epic camera systems, the digital-to-digital transfer displays vividly crisp contrast levels with intensely bright but comfortable whites throughout. This allows for gorgeous, jaw-dropping panoramic views of the hills, mountainous valleys and forests in Romania. You can see just as clearly into the far distance as you can foreground objects. The color palette is pushed more towards the softer secondary hues, which appear radiant and rich with warmth and energy, but primaries remain boldly accurate from beginning to end. Only issue keeping the high-def presentation just shy of perfection is the inconsistent blacks, looking their best during daylight exteriors but losing some of the sheen in nighttime sequences. Thankfully, shadow details are not compromised as background information remains easily discernible.
The wild, hillbilly family feud continues its a-hootin' and a-hollerin' with this equally sensational DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which makes great use of the entire sound system. Atmospherics fill the rears with surrounding wildlife and the sounds of wind blowing through the treetops. Directionality is flawless and often convincing as bullets are heard in the distance or whizzing nearby from all around. Although there are moments when such discrete effects come off rather forced or exaggerated, they nonetheless generate a satisfyingly immersive soundfield.
In the front soundstage, imaging is fantastically engaging and welcoming, full of random activity even during the many quieter segments. They're mostly minor and fairly subtle, but they provide the lossless mix with a warmth and presence that's highly entertaining. Movement across the channels is fluid and smooth while dialogue remains well-prioritized and precise, although some of the slurred, accented vocals are a bit difficult to make out. Dynamic range is incredibly extensive with sharp, details in the upper frequencies. Aside from the several action sequences, this is most apparent during the original country music of John Debney and Tony Morales, which features many string instruments throughout. The low-end is also accurate and fittingly responsive, providing some heft and power to the gunshots and explosions with Randall McCoy's delusion scene digging the deepest in the bottom frequencies.
Bonus features are unfortunately light but watchable nonetheless.
From director Kevin Reynolds, 'Hatfields & McCoys,' which aired on the History Channel cable network, tells the legendary tale of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, a moment in U.S. history that has etched itself into the American collective consciousness. With excellent performances by the entire cast, led by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, the three-part miniseries is an enthralling and captivating saga about familial loyalty, vengeance and the type of pride which can eat away at one's soul. The show debuts on Blu-ray with an exceptional, near-reference quality audio and video presentation, but supplements are sadly in short supply. Still, the overall package will have viewers a-hootin' and a-hollerin' with satisfaction. Recommended.