music friday: 1981
on this day: tv 2004

local hero (bill forsyth, 1983)

I've only seen one other Bill Forsyth movie, Housekeeping, and while I have fond memories of that one, they may be influenced by my good feelings about the novel on which it is based. I get the feeling from reading other critics that Local Hero is a typical Forsyth saga, but I can't speak from experience about that. Suffice to say that Local Hero is full of subtle observations about people who aren't eccentric as much as they are familiar in their oddities. Forsyth takes his time getting from point A to point B, but we're never bored, because the characters in the town where most of the movie takes place are allowed the time to reveal themselves to us. We get to know them, and their town, just as Peter Riegert's Mac, who comes from Houston with a business proposition, gradually comes to appreciate them.

Mac represents a big oil company that wants to buy the entire town of Ferness in Scotland, in order to build a refinery. A standard version of this story would have the villagers being a plucky band who refuse to give in to the big oil company, but while the people of Ferness are plucky, they aren't interested in fighting the company. They just want to make sure they get as much money as possible in the deal. Forsyth pulls this off in an unassuming way. He lets us see the pleasures of living in Ferness, but he also shows how the people of Ferness don't have blinders about their situation. There aren't really any bad guys ... not Mac and his company, not the townspeople who are willing to sell for the right price. It's a character study where the town of Ferness is one of the characters, and Forsyth has a genial feel for all of his characters.

I haven't mentioned yet the biggest name in the cast, Burt Lancaster, and given that he is one of my favorite actors, it's surprises me that I've waited so long. But Lancaster has what amounts to an extended cameo as Happer, the head of the oil company. He is, though, the person who is able to connect the rich oil corporation and the small Scottish town. His eccentricity comes from his love of astronomy. It seems at first that he is more interested in what the skies above Scotland might reveal than he is about building his refinery, and by the end of the film, Forsyth has allowed Happer to have both. It's a happy ending in a movie that never moves too far towards anything else.

Local Hero is a movie that makes you smile, if not laugh out loud. This may work in its advantage for someone like me, who doesn't always enjoy "laugh out loud" movies. #608 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

 

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