The British documentarian Adam Curtis (The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares) coined the term “Oh Dearism” for the type of journalism in which the news is so awful and a remedy so hopeless that the only response the viewer can muster is, “Oh dear.” In The Last Mountain, filmmaker Bill Haney has erected a muckraking, righteously angry assault that confirms every suspicion—and several more besides—about the cartoonish villainy of the coal industry. And come the end, after a constant parade of grim factoids and go-nowhere citizen protests, the only response is to shake one’s head and mutter, “Oh dear.”
Shrill, one-note propaganda for a worthy cause, The Last Mountain views the subject from the perspective of a small West Virginia community who’ve taken a stand against Massey Energy. This heartless corporation—in the midst of being sued over last year’s mining explosion—has been decimating the nearby mountains to literal rubble, in turn blasting pollutants into the air that have caused asthma, cancer, mercury poisoning and, hey, why not autism, too? When locals complain, they’re written off by Massey kingpin and global warming denier Don Blankenship as “environmentalists” (boo!) and charged with taking American jobs away—a fairly stunning assertion from someone who, of course, has been giving most of his jobs to machines.
That Haney never tries to see Massey’s POV is understandable, and would have been next to impossible, but the lack of a fuller perspective does make for a monotonous slog. The situation isn’t abated once the film recruits Robert Kennedy, Jr., environmental lawyer, activist and Kennedy scion, as the shiny hero/doc protagonist. As RKJ meets-and-greets locals, oversees protests and tête-à-têtes with coal stooges and blinkered miners, a doc that already smacks of infomercial begins to look like a campaign video, too. And yet the news is so scary, the baddies so untouchable and the official doc so exhausting and thrown-together—it can’t even afford a requisite celebrity narrator—that even an 11th hour shilling for wind energy can’t keep viewers from thinking what’s the fucking use.