Bill Haney's provocative documentary "The Last Mountain" takes a very pronounced stand against coal mining in general and the destruction of the Appalachian Mountain region specifically. It's a vitally important topic in terms of environmental studies that has long range repercussions in the worlds of politics and big business, and it has been an on-going debate for as many years as I can remember. I have probably seen two dozen films or television projects about the dangers of Mountain Top Removal mining and the irresponsibility of those that have performed it. With only one range left unsullied, "The Last Mountain" chronicles the fight of the local West Virginia residents and outside environmentalists and activists against the coal conglomerates. It is a very angry documentary, well constructed if decidedly one-sided, that is relentlessly bleak for most of its running time. Health concerns, mining disasters, pollution, damage to property, community destruction--there is a veritable onslaught of catastrophes that the inhabitants of local communities have endured. It isn't until the last third of the film, however, that an alternate solution and energy proposal is introduced. I wish that it had been brought up earlier in the film to shed some light to the darkness.
The locals and the movie have a real champion in Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy has been in this fight quite some time and is a worthy celebrity advocate. It is fascinating to see him go into debate mode with protesting coal supporters. I can see why Haney wanted to include Kennedy as much as possible to help raise awareness of the issues and to heighten the profile of the documentary. It is a sound decision that actually backfires a bit. Sometimes the film becomes too wrapped up in Kennedy as the subject instead of the actual battle. Taking nothing away from Kennedy or his commitment, he sometimes distracts the film from its actual message (as he relates personal stories from his past). The real images that will stay with me are provided by the common folk taking a stand. The scenes, for example, as residents visit the Governor's office have much more power and gravitas simply because of the David versus Goliath dimension.
If you are interested in the subject of "The Last Mountain," this is an easy recommendation. If you aren't, you probably should be. I've certainly seen more even handed approaches to the topic. The palpable anger is understandable, but with more balance--the film could have really stood as the definitive deconstruction of the issues. But there are quite a few more influencing factors and outside pressures than are presented here. I really liked the more hopeful upswing at the end of the picture as some alternate fuel sources are explored. We see some success and some actual hope. And I really needed some hope as the movie had painted a pretty depressing portrait--it almost made the struggle seem futile. The future of energy should be of vital importance to every American and, for my money, that makes "The Last Mountain" essential viewing. It's not perfect, but its heart is in the right place. KGHarris, 10/11