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Review: The Last Mountain

Documentary details the dark and dusty secret that is mountaintop removal coal mining

Citizens and supporters of the Coal River Valley protest coal mining and Mountain Top Removal in the documentary The Last Mountain

Citizens and supporters of the Coal River Valley protest coal mining and mountaintop removal in Washington, DC. — Courtesy Uncommon Productions

There’s a priceless moment where Kennedy visits an old man who has stayed in place as the entire small town around him has been “depopulated” — one of the movie’s saddest terms — due to disappearing jobs and deplorable environmental conditions. “I never thought I’d have a Kennedy in my home,” the man says, and it’s hard to tell if he’s starstruck or horrified.

Haney, though, is clearly a bit starstruck, and the film’s final section turns into something that feels like a PSA for wind farming, one of Kennedy’s pet causes. It’s an important point to make — if the endgame is to stop this form of coal mining, there needs to be something to replace it as an energy source — but the movie’s picture of wind turbines as a perfect solution feels a little too easy and unexamined.

The film’s case against mountaintop removal, however, is convincing and altogether terrifying. The local protestors who are fighting the practice are the movie’s true heroes, and at the end there are hints that they may actually conquer their metaphorical mountain. Whatever happens, it’ll be hard for anyone to walk out of The Last Mountain and not be angry — at the executives who run Big Coal, and at the politicians on both sides of the aisle who are happily subservient in exchange for campaign donations.

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