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By Phil Hall | November 12, 2009

Michael F. Fountain’s documentary focuses on Lucas Chaffin, a fourth-generation twentysomething Appalachian coal miner. He is lovingly following in the footsteps of his father, Luther “Bonecrusher” Chaffin, who is supposedly something of a minor legend in the coal mining community of Dante, Virginia.

But the film finds the elder Chaffin at the end of his life: a cancer-stricken 61-year-old who speaks unhappily of his son’s work. Lucas’ wife is also displeased at her husband’s profession, noting injuries to his back and knee and the uncertainty that there could be an occupational disaster at any moment.

To its credit, “Bonecrusher” details the dangers of coal mining – the sequences in the dark underground channels where men walk hunched over while breathing coal dust are truly harrowing. But as a view of a real-life domestic drama, the film is strangely inert. The Chaffin family is pleasant, but it is hard to see what they’ve done to warrant the attention of a camera crew. Nor is it entirely clear what the four generations of Chaffins ever got out of their labors – Lucas speaks about staying in the mine fields because of allegedly good salary, but there is no evidence of that in his home or the larger community of miners around them.

“Bonecrusher” isn’t a badly made film, but outside of the mining scenes it is not particularly engaging.

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