Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blowing up the mountaintops to get out the coal

Activist Maria Gunnoe at a Massey Energy coal extraction site in West Virginia. The documentary also features Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Activist Maria Gunnoe at a Massey Energy coal extraction site in West Virginia. The documentary also features Robert F. Kennedy Jr. VIVIAN STOCKMAN
About the movie
The Last Mountain
MPAA rating:
for some thematic material and brief language
Running time:
Release date:
Directed by:
Bill Haney

The Last Mountain will make you very, very angry.

A powerful documentary with an important agenda - saving an Appalachian mountain and the people living in the valley below - director Bill Haney's piece of advocacy journalism looks at the heavy costs of "mountaintop removal," a method of coal extraction in which tons of dynamite are used to blow a mountain wide open.

The result, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental crusader who has been fighting alongside West Virginia locals in their battle against a giant coal company and government officials, is "a denuded moonscape." Hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded moonscape.

The Last Mountain is more than another tale of treehuggers going up against an energy behemoth and its employees (who are, understandably, happy to be employed). It's a tale of politicians in the pockets of Big Coal, of flagrant violations of environmental laws, and of small communities turned into ghost towns by pollution, flooding, and alarmingly high rates of cancer. (In one tiny hollow where the groundwater had been contaminated with heavy metals from toxic sludge, six people, children and adults, were diagnosed with brain tumors.)

The bad guys here are Massey Energy, the third-largest coal company in America, cited for more than 60,000 environmental violations between 2000 and 2006, and its former chief executive officer, Don Blankenship, who talked jobs while eliminating them. The good guys: Maria Gunnoe, a daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, who has led the charge against surface mining; Gunnoe's friends and neighbors in Boone County, West Virginia; Kennedy, and a band of scientists and activists.

But it's not as simple as bad guys and good guys. The Last Mountain, more than anything, asks us to consider where our energy comes from, and how we can bring about changes that benefit all of us and the planet we live on.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at


Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
comments powered by Disqus
Latest Videos:
Also on
letter icon Newsletter