Wednesday, August 25, 2010

#19. Local Hero (1983)

Directed By: Bill Forsyth

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Fulton Mackay

Tag line: "The story of an ordinary man who cared enough to do something extraordinary"

Trivia:  After the movie came out, many people went in search of the village with the phone booth. Since it didn't exist, they were always disappointed. The village where the movie was filmed finally decided to put up a phone booth for the sake of the visitors

I absolutely love Local Hero, Bill Forsyth’s criminally underrated 1983 comedy about a man who has lost his way, only to find himself again in the most unlikely of places. 

Mac (Peter Riegert) is a junior executive with Knox Oil and Gas, a large petroleum company headquartered in Houston, Texas. Knox is planning to build a new refinery off the coast of Scotland, and Mac, an expert at closing deals, has been assigned to the project. So, it’s off to Ferness, a remote Scottish fishing village, where Mac hopes to reach a quick agreement with the locals to buy up their entire town. 

He’s met at the airport by Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), an employee of Knox in Abberdine, and together, Mac and Danny descend on the small coastal community, bracing themselves for what they assume will be some tough negotiations. 

While dealing with the town's appointed representative Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson), however, Mac and Danny discover something they never expected: the citizens of Ferness are actually quite eager to sell!

A funny, touching film, Local Hero is, more than anything, a first-hand account of one man's spiritual transformation. At the outset, Mac is completely caught up in his modern existence. His job as a negotiator rarely gives him reason to travel far from his Houston-based office, where he can close a deal with a few afternoon telephone calls. His world is quick, convenient, and completely impersonal. 

Once in Ferness, he has no choice but to meet face-to-face with the locals, and as he discovers, life moves pretty slowly there. So, as the townsfolk take their time discussing matters, Mac strolls on the beach and stares out at the sea. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, he notices how beautiful it is. He then looks up at the sky, an assignment given to him by his boss, Mr. Happer (Burt Lancaster), who is on the lookout for a new comet. Mac is amazed by the brilliant light show of the Aurora Borealis and for the first time in a long time, his eyes have been opened to the world around him.

At one point, Mac even takes an afternoon off to collect seashells, an event that leads to what is perhaps the film’s most memorable image; as Mac is crawling along the rocks hunting for shells, he removes his expensive watch, the one that sounds an alarm whenever it’s conference time in Houston, and places it on the ground next to him. Before long, Mac becomes so preoccupied with his shells that he completely forgets about this watch. The last we see of it, it’s submerged in a puddle of water, its alarm sounding in a faded, muffled tone. Conference time in Houston, and Mac couldn’t care less. 

I, for one, fully bought into this tale of Mac's conversion from active player to passive observer, mostly because, in the end, I, too, fell in love with the town of Ferness. It’s a love I renew each and every time I watch this marvelous film.


Unknown said...

After not seeing this since the mid-80s on HBO, I hunted around to find it. Difficult but not impossible since WB has taken the DVD out of circulation from what I can tell.

This is a great overlooked gem of a film. Not bombastic or hitting you over the head with loud music (Knopfler's score is amazing) and special effects. Just a great movie to watch by yourself or with a loved one.

Screenwriters can learn a lot about characterization from this movie. Every character is different and special with their own quirks. Burt Lancaster's Happer comes to the forefront as a strange oil tycoon CEO, but Norman Chancer's Moritz plays off him so well by being so extreme.

Surprised this got no comments, so I thought I would add my own two cents and say if you can find it, watch it.

You may find yourself pulling it out of the library every so often to watch and feel good.

Charlie Accetta said...

The movie was in keeping with the type of projects Lancaster chose to work with in the sunset of his career: quiet, soothing pieces; almost funereal in some aspects.

It's also available for $2.99 rental on Amazon.

Kristin A. said...

I can honestly say I have never heard of this film. I must seek out why the soundtrack sold better than the film. Must have had some damn good music on it.