A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Local Hero

July 23, 2010

Local Hero

This movie is a treasure. A unique and mesmerizing multi-faceted gem. It is also, I am finding, a very difficult movie to review. Part of director Bill Forsyth’s genius is his ability to capture small human moments and poke fun at what might be considered normal. I just don’t know if I have the vocabulary to adequately describe Forsyth’s vision.

The movie itself is a sort of parable about the dangers of the yuppie money obsessed culture of the early eighties. MacIntyre is a big money wheeler and dealer working for Knox Oil & Gas – a mega successful business run out of Texas. He’s not actually Scottish, but he doesn’t tell his bosses that when they ship him off to a little village on the shores of Scotland on the mistaken assumption that his ties in the old world will help them to buy up a huge passel of shoreline to build an oil refinery and distribution point. Mac doesn’t really want to go (he’s more a telex kind of guy and would rather seal the deal over the wires) but he’s a company man, and sees success in this venture as a way to advance his career and get on the good side of the eccentric president of Knox, Mr. Happer. When Mac reaches his destination he figures he’s going to have a tough time convincing the locals to give up their land, but unbeknownst to him and his bumbling local Knox representative Oldsen the villagers already know about the impending sale (news travels fast ‘round these parts) and are eager to sell their land and become millionaires. The town solicitor Gordon Urquhart (who also runs the only hotel in town and the bar) is in cahoots with all the locals to wring as much money from the gullible American as they can. So they string him along for a while, making him think that he’s bringing upheaval to their lives in an effort to drive up the price. And meanwhile Mac is slowly falling in love with the land that it’s ultimately his job to buy and bring to destruction.

Part of the problem for me as a reviewer is that so much of the story is told without dialog. It’s a movie full of quiet performances and subtle humor. Huge long periods of time go by with just the lead characters exploring the world they find themselves in, accompanied by Mark Knopfler’s simple, almost minimalistic and somewhat natural soundtrack. Mac takes off his shoes to explore a tide pool. Oldsen waits on the beach for the mysterious Marina to emerge from the waves. The movie is as elegant as the tides against the rocks, and it lulls you with a gentle rhythm that you don’t often find in the cinema.

A great degree of the movie’s success can of course be credited to the wonderful cast. Peter Riegert as Mac is almost instantly likable, even when he’s still in Texas living his upwardly mobile life. The joke early on is that he’s so isolated. He calls people in the next room rather than talk to them in person. He doesn’t seem to have anybody that cares when he’s about to leave on this journey to another continent. But he’s the ultimate image of a successful American businessman with his digital watch, electric briefcase, expensive car and huge empty apartment. As the movie goes on a lot of the emotional core relies on Riegart’s ability to let the viewer into his character’s head and heart without ever having dialog that explicitly tells us what’s going on.

Then there’s the supporting cast. Denis Lawson (whom crazy Star Wars fans may recognise as erstwhile rebel star-pilot Wedge) is great as the canny businessman Gordon, who seems at all times to have Mac in the palm of his hand, but who is also undeniably part of the village. Peter Capaldi as Oldsen gives the most physically comedic performance in the movie, all gangly awkward flailing like a teen-aged boy. (His character falls in love with a strange marine biologist named Marina who always seems to be in the ocean off the shore.) Then there’s Mr. Happer himself, the head of Knox, played with an innocent kind of verve by Burt Lancaster. He has an obsession with stars and comets, and an irritating shrink who thinks that by insulting and pestering Happer he is proving some kind of point.

The REAL star of the movie, though, is the Scottish seaside. The beaches, crags, and waves. The impossibly green bluffs. The quaint village and its collection of quirky inhabitants. And playing in and around it all Knopfler’s score. What’s so amazing about the music in this movie, and what I’ve so very rarely seen before, is that the music supports the visuals and the emotional thrust of the movie so well without ever dominating the scene. It doesn’t lead the viewer around by the nose, but it works together with the pictures and the performances to get inside your head.

Another thing that’s clever about the movie is that it’s a comedy, with jokes and running gags and plenty of laughs, but it’s also got a sort of wistful, almost sorrowful feel to it. There’s a fragile, magical feel to the village of Fernesse, and really to the entire movie. I don’t know if I can really describe it. I feel like Mac – in the scene when he’s trying to tell Happer over the phone about the aurora borealis. My words are insufficient… you really owe it to yourself, dear reader, to find the movie and watch it. Maybe then you’ll understand what it is I’m trying to say.


July 23, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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