31 March 2007 | patricksfolly
A truly excellent and engaging historical drama!
This film is a gem! The cinematography, costumes, sets, script, and acting are all excellent. The story is totally engaging. Some people might be turning off by the slow start, but it's the perfect set up to a brilliant piece of cinema. With all of that said, some people take this film as historical truth. That's where there are major gray areas.
This film was based loosely on the accounts of one man, James McPharlan (Harris' character), and at that doesn't stick too close to his account of infiltrating an underground organization of Irish coal miners who were fronted by the Ancient Order of Hiberians. Hollywood, of course, sexed up the plot and stream lined it so that it would be easier to follow. Not surprising really. The realities of the situation in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 1860's and 1870's and America in general following the Civil War were very complex. The film didn't have time to cover these details. Like so many historical topics it would take a mini series at least to cover it well.
What this film does do very well is inspire one to study. It's an interesting and little known or understood part of American history. There are a lot of opinions on all sides of the situation that still stir people today. This was effectively the beginning of the labor movement in America. The course of action portrayed in this film led to the establishment of unions.
I watched this movie many times as a child and still do today. It inspired me to read a lot about the Molly Maguires (if they really existed at all) and even go all the way across country (I'm from Seattle) to rural Pennsylvania to see the place for myself. That's what brilliant film making is all about. To inspire a person to understand the world around them more and hopefully take a closer look at it.
Another thing that this film does brilliantly is it leaves the protagonist very open and allows the viewer to decide where, ultimately, their loyalties lay. Connery's character appeals to our sense of social justice. The little guy going against the big machine that oppresses him and all like him. Harris on the other hand is the man who goes against what he feels is right to do what is ultimately correct by catching, what are after all, a group of thugs and murderers (in reality McPharlan didn't have this complex clash of conscience. He thought they were all guilty scum who deserved to be hanged.). It's very Hollywood, but very effective.