"The Last Mountain": Documentary Confirms That Coal Mining Is Pretty Crappy

Antrim Caskey


Rated PG. Opens Thursday at the Embarcadero. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and director Bill Haney in person at 7:20 screening on opening night.

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A grueling barrage of geologic plunder, union busting, sociopathic official indifference (hey, why not put a toxic-sludge lake next to an elementary school?), and worse, this environmental exposé confirms every awful suspicion ever raised about the coal industry. Trouble is, the news is so bad and so plentiful that The Last Mountain may have you looking for the nearest exit (or a razor blade) instead of a way to register your outrage. Director Bill Haney approaches the subject from the perspective of a small West Virginia community, where a few residents take a stand against Massey Energy — currently in the news for being sued by the relatives of last year's mining explosion victims — to save a local peak from the monstrously thorough process called "mountain removal mining." It all begins to play like a campaign film once activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joins the fight, but scenes of him sparring with double-talking Big Coal flunkies provide relief from visits to cancer-decimated towns and the frequent, stats-heavy PSA-style intertitles. The staggering disregard for life on display here is eye-opening and infuriating, and Haney juxtaposes it effectively with scenes of Appalachia's lush countryside and homegrown protests. But before an encouraging wind-power segment arrives in its last reel, Mountain threatens to become a desensitizing loop of the corporate ethos — grab everything you can until somebody makes you stop — writ large.

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