When the coal dust settles, writer-director Sara Colangelo’s soberly compassionate debut — a West Virginia mining-town drama, well-acted and impressively shot on location, as reworked from her 2010 short of the same title — unfortunately doesn’t linger long in the memory due to a generically melodramatic script.
An offscreen tragedy leaves ten miners dead, and taciturn lone survivor Amos (The Skeleton Twins‘ Boyd Holbrook, clearly bound for stardom), crippled both emotionally and physically, is under union pressure to testify in the ongoing investigation. The calamity and Amos’s moral impasse bring paralyzing ripple effects to the close-knit community, even to a relative outsider like Diane (Elizabeth Banks) — the affluent wife of mining exec and potential fall guy Bill (Josh Lucas) — who is stunned out of her safety net of privilege when their teenage son goes missing.
Meanwhile, angry young Owen (Mud‘s Jacob Lofland) is racked with guilt over having firsthand knowledge of the boy’s whereabouts but being too afraid to tell. All the secrets, lies, and consequences feel as authentic as the Appalachian milieu, but the film lacks the memorable idiosyncrasy of a River’s Edge, or more fittingly, the myth-making lyricism of Matewan.
And considering there’s a dearth of women filmmakers, it’s startling that Colangelo’s female characters are also her most underwritten.