American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The movie's first error is its failure to clearly establish what it intends to do and how it intends to do it. Stylistically, it skips all over the place, combining interviews, footage from old Westerns, voiceover narration, on-location slices of life, political charges and pseudoanthropology. There is no clear line, no cinematic logic, to draw us from the beginning to the end.
The second error is to show us pictures that do not reflect what is being said about them. The footage from old Westerns, for example, is not clearly labeled as coming from Hollywood. I have the feeling the filmmakers hope it will be mistaken for actual historical footage.
The third error is the lack of a central reportorial presence.
Actor Martin Sheen narrates the film, but his voiceovers were obviously done after the film was assembled and its point of view set. As he reads flowery phrases about the "womb of nature," we see images that ask less poetic questions, such as: Who are these actual people we are looking at, and what is their story? That leads to another problem, the fact that obvious questions go unasked. The film has two villains: the Peabody Coal Co. and U.S. Rep.