I’ve been lukewarm on the "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries in its first two parts. It seems to be rambling and simplistic with the bare minimum of production value. Most of those problems are still there, but the third part is improved with some payoff to the prolonged conflicts and a little more action.
While Anse Hatfield (Kevin Costner) is sick, Jim Vance (Tom Berenger) leads the charge on Randall McCoy (Bill Paxton.) It’s a dramatic standoff with good buildup, the Hatfields surrounding the cabin and the McCoys hiding the wee children behind sturdy furniture. It’s a vicious attack and the Hatfield kids make tragic mistakes that Vance can’t control. This one isn’t supposed to be the rousing gunfight. That’s coming later. This is the tragically misguided violence.
At least things are escalating beyond reason at this point. In the first two parts it’s been an eye for an eye, which isn’t smart or noble (for all their talk of honor), but it makes sense. In previous attacks, either family could still have said, "You know, our boys went too far so let’s take responsibility for it." Instead they kept taking retribution. Now the violence has spiraled into its own entity, so there’s no recourse that could satisfy either family. It can only end with them killing each other.
Scenes of reflection still feel half assed. Randall mourns the family he lost in the opening attack, and it’s pretty trite language he speaks about holding his loved ones in his arms. It’s lazy writing and Paxton seems lost saying it. Anse and his wife Levicy (Sarah Parish) debating their actions in bed is a bit more sincerely self-reflexive with the weight of the world on Anse. It doesn’t elevate the material but gets the job done.
There’s a scene of Vance filling Anse in on the botched attack. Now this is just filler. Of course Anse has to be briefed, but the audience doesn’t need to hear it again. It’s truly for the people tuning in late, to catch them up. It’s a TV thing that slows down the storytelling. However here, Berenger nails the scene so at least you get to watch him play the guilty rationalization of his murders.
The Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr)/Nancy McCoy (Jena Malone) marriage can’t survive the deaths of her siblings. She hooks up with Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard), the bounty hunter who’s been rounding up Hatfields. Not sure where that came from, I don’t remember hints of that in earlier parts, but it’s kind of wild so that’s interesting. They blatantly make out in public so they’re rubbing it in on anyone who sees them.
When Phillips’ gang finds Vance and Cap Hatfield (Boyd Holbrook) in the woods there’s a pretty good shootout. The 1888 Battle of Grapevine is the most epic battle. They’ve saved a few gun tricks for this one, the actors displaying the special moves they learned. Though Randall screaming "Hatfield!" and Anse screaming "McCoy!" back is pretty silly.
This is also the culmination of dramatic dialogues. A scene between Anse and Johnse is kind of the essence of the story, what the whole series should have striven for. Johnse is a little on the nose about hating the conflict, but at least he expresses its futility. Nancy and Roseanne McCoy have a nice scene. Nancy has become totally one dimensional by then but it pays off her betrayal. Roseanne confronting Randall is a nice payoff to all the old hurt caused in part one (remember way back when? It is actually years in McCoy time.)
By the last hour things have fallen apart for both families, so we do see the cost of all these years of battling. The film ends on a somber, pensive note that’s appropriate. It still feels like a very small kind of "epic," but at least it feels like the three night investment has paid off.