Matewan ★★★½

In the first of his big ensemble dramas, Sayles assembles an excellent cast that understands the power of withheld emotions, especially in capturing the necessary sense of verisimilitude that historical subjects require. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler captures it all with stoic beauty. One of Sayles' best assets as both an aestheticist and a dramatist is his confidence in his material, and he rarely kills a moment, theme or feeling with too much emphasis, preferring to let tension leak slowly, like an undetectable gas. MATEWAN's formal solidity is supported by a narrative that is patient and engaging but unexceptional. The simplistic story works due to Sayles' restraint, and its lack of provocation or insight is balanced by plenty of room for contemplation.

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