A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 145 – Local Hero

Local Hero – July 23, 2010

This is a funny movie. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest you remedy that. But it also makes me ache at the end. Not that it ends poorly. In fact, it ends rather well for almost everyone involved. Almost. It’s a bittersweet thing. It’s a longing thing. It aches. And it aches in a familiar way for me, so while this is largely a comedy, it also makes me cry.

It’s a quiet comedy, really. Where many others have loud guffawing moments, this one has softer humor. Much of the humor is in subtle deliveries of lines and in the situation itself. What physical humor there is isn’t of the pratfall variety. It’s things like the main character and his business partner sitting down to a quiet dinner in their hotel and the main character getting squirted in the eye with juice from their lemons twice, but there’s not a single word uttered. It’s things like the two of them walking down a rural Scottish beach in their full double breasted suits and polished shoes, briefcases in hand. That’s the humor.

It’s a quirky movie, but quirky seems like a thoroughly inadequate word to encompass what makes it so wonderful and bizarre at the same time. You sort of have to see it to truly understand it. I could try to explain it, and I will, but I won’t do it justice.

The bigwigs at Knox Oil and Gas, a USA-based oil company, decide they need to put an oil refinery off the coast of Scotland, so they tap acquisitions man MacIntyre to go to Scotland and secure the small fishing village of Ferness. Of course he goes in thinking he’s dealing with a bunch of naive locals, but the locals are anything but naive. They all know exactly what’s going on and the resident accountant/lawyer/hotelier, Gordon Urquhart, assures everyone he’ll string MacIntyre along until they’ve milked as much money as they can from Knox. The trouble officially starts when they find out that a local hermit, Ben, who lives on the beach, actually owns the beach, which was gifted to his family hundreds of years back. The papers are in a museum, even. But the trouble really starts a lot earlier when Mac starts to fall in love with Ferness.

I’ll get back to Mac, I promise, but first I need to go back a few steps, to Knox. The president of the company is Felix Happer, played wonderfully by Burt Lancaster. He comes off a little distracted. One assumes he’s invested in the company in some ways, but he’s also obviously unhappy, employing a bizarre therapist who heaps abuse on him as part of his therapy. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie. It’s just this odd thread that keeps popping up in the scenes with Happer back in Houston. He’s also obsessed with the sky and what’s in it, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Mac has to call him back several times to tell him about things like meteor showers and the northern lights. And this is pre-cellphones, so all phone conversations are conducted with Mac in a red phone box in Ferness, frantically trying to pop enough 10p coins in to keep up a connection with Houston.

There’s also a whole subplot with Mac’s Scottish contact, Danny Oldsen, and Danny’s growing obsession with a researcher from Knox’s Aberdeen labs. Marina’s a fantastic swimmer, and has no idea about the oil refinery. She’s envisioned a marine laboratory, because Ferness is a special place. Magical, almost. Unique.

Back to Mac. There are a lot of little moments in between the humor where you can practically see the gears turning in Mac’s head while he figures out that his life is not what he wants. He and Danny slowly lose their full suits and ties and polished shoes. They slip into sweaters like the locals, and roll up their pant legs and take off their shoes. By the time the town throws a little ceilidh to celebrate and Russian fisherman Victor shows up, to the town’s delight, Mac’s pretty settled in. And it really hits me at the ceilidh, around the end, when the band is playing softly and the aurora borealis shows up. I start getting choked up. And then I don’t have time to get too choked up because it’s funny too. Which is what this movie does so well. It’s touching and poignant while at the same time making you chuckle. It never feels jarring. The really funny bits still fit right in with the thoughtful bits and the quiet bits and the aching bits.

By the end, when Mac’s made friends with Gordon and Victor (the Victor friendship was surely even funnier in 1983 when the movie came out and it was thoroughly improbable that Victor would make it to Houston or Mac would make it to Murmansk, but they exchange cards anyhow) and the unlikely team has set up almost everything, there’s this feeling of both triumph and dread. Sure, people are happy, but look at why – an oil refinery and the loss of this amazingly beautiful place. This special, magical, unique place. I end up feeling bad for Mac. He has this big awakening in the perfect setting, realizes what he wants, and then it slips away. I don’t have a name for this feeling. All I know is that I felt it in college when I was in a landlocked town and desperately needed the ocean I grew up near. It’s an ache, when the salt air is gone and you can’t hear the waves. It’s an amazing movie that can stir that feeling in me again when I’m just a mile from the ocean.

Part of the success is the writing, which is fantastic. I cannot praise the script enough for things like Gordon and Mac’s drunken conversation after the ceilidh where Mac tells Gordon he’d like to swap lives with him. Part of it is the directing, which takes that amazing script and adds amazing moments like the entire town leaving the local church, where they’ve been meeting to talk about Mac, and Mac stands there, his back to them, while Danny watches and says nothing. And part of it is the performances, which are understated and perfect. Peter Reigert plays Mac’s dawning realization with this lovely quiet semi-confusion. Dennis Lawson plays Gordon as both scheming and truly good at heart, trying to do the best for the town while also befriending Mac. And I already mentioned Burt Lancaster. There’s the soundtrack too, done by Mark Knopfler and full of lovely themes I’m sure will be stuck in my head for days. I just went and bought the album on iTunes, actually, and it’s amazingly evocative. It all adds up to this movie. This lovely and quirky and funny and sad movie.

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

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