Mine 9, a low-budget but high-octane film, does not advocate for or against America's controversial legacy of coal mining. Instead, it lionizes the miners who do the heavy lifting in order to keep plants afire. To date, Mine 9 has had a limited theatrical release in the America's so-called coal belt, where the film has been embraced by audiences for its realism. But when Mine 9 opens Friday, July 19, at The Flicks in Boise, more than a few audience members will undoubtedly deconstruct Idaho's own checkered past (and present) in mining. Lest anyone forget, 91 Idahoans died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the 1972 Sunshine Mine disaster in northern Idaho's Silver Valley. In fact, the Gem State's mining tragedies have extended far beyond the Panhandle. Records indicate that more than 600 Idahoans have been killed in explosions, cave-ins or other mining disasters in Ada, Adams, Bear Lake, Blaine, Boise, Bonner, Boundary, Butte, Caribou, Clearwater, Custer, Elmore, Gem, Idaho, Lemhi, Owyhee, Shoshone, Teton, Valley and Washington counties.
All that said, most Americans probably envision Appalachia when they think of mining; and Mine 9's backdrop is, quite appropriately, a small West Virginia mining town. Since the early 20th century, when 362 West Virginians were killed in a mine explosion in Monongah, the Mountain State's portrait has been matte with coal dust. Most recently, 12 West Virginians were killed in the Sago Mine explosion of 2006, and 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010.
Mine 9 Director/Dcreenwriter Eddie Mensore, a native of Martinsville, West Virginia, pitched his screenplay for nearly a dozen years before finally getting permission to film some of his movie inside a real coal mine, thus giving the project intense authenticity. But a word of caution: The claustrophobic, you-are-there nature of Mine 9 is palpable. Suffice to say, theater owners might want to consider selling portable oxygen tanks at concession stands.
Even before Mine 9's opening titles begin, Mensore begins his film by filling a coal-black screen with a passage dubbed, "The Coal Miner's Prayer," penned by W. Calvert:
"Each dawn as we rise, Lord we know all too well,
We face only one thing—a pit filled with hell.
To scratch out a living the best we can,
But deep in the heart, lies the soul of a man.
With black-covered faces and hard-calloused hands,
We work the dank tunnels, unable to stand.
To labour and toil as we harvest the coals,
We silently play, 'Lord, please harvest our souls.'"
Indeed, the Lord's name is invoked often by the ill-fated miners of Mine 9 (we only learn their first names).
"God is going to protect us," says John (Clint James), ripping his jacket open to point to his t-shirt which reads, "Jesus loves you... but I'm his favorite."
Zeke, a supervisor (a very fine performance from Terry Serpico), glances at John's shirt and says, "Trust me, God will not protect us in hell.
And where John, Zeke and the other miners are headed—2,000-feet beneath the earth's surface—may not be hell, but it's close enough for what's about to happen.
"You'll see the face of God down there," a veteran miner tells a wide-eyed newbie, barely 18-years old. "Well, the face of God or Satan himself."
Moments later, the gates of hell indeed explode open; and what follows is 60 minutes of heart-in-your threat tension. Yes, I highly recommend Mine 9. But know this: you'll be breathing hard for at least a few hours following the film's conclusion.