Starring two-time OscarÂ(r) winner* Gene Hackman and Academy AwardÂ(r) nominee** Willem Dafoe, Mississippi Burning ranks as one of the most potent and insightful views of racial turmoil yet produced (Variety). Nominated*** for six OscarsÂ(r) and winner of an Academy AwardÂ(r) for Best Cinematography, this emotionally charged film vividly captures acrucial chapter in American history (Time)! As three civil rights activists drive down a desolate stretch of highway, headlights ominously draw near. Telling each other to stay calm, they have no way of knowing that in minutes they will disappear into the night and spark one of the most explosive murder investigations in history. Enter straight-laced Ward (Dafoe) and deceptively easy-going Anderson (Hackman). Can these two philosophically opposed FBI agents overcome their differences and uncover the chilling mystery of a small Ku Klux Klan-ridden community before an entire town is torn apart by racism?
Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe star in this well-intentioned and largely successful civil rights-era thriller. Mississippi Burning
, using the real-life 1964 disappearance of three civil rights workers as its inspiration, tells the story of two FBI men (Hackman and Dafoe, entertainingly called "Hoover Boys" by the locals) who come in to try to solve the crime. Hackman is a former small-town Mississippi sheriff himself, while Dafoe is a by-the-numbers young hotshot. Yes, there is some tension between the two. The movie has an interesting fatalism, as all the FBI's best efforts incite more and more violence, which becomes disturbing--the film's message, perhaps inadvertently, seems to be that vigilantism is the only real way to get things done. The brilliant Frances McDormand, here early in her career, is not given enough to do but still does it well enough to have racked up an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actress. (Hackman also received a nomination for Best Actor, and the film won an Academy Award for Cinematography). The story line of Mississippi Burning
is ultimately unsatisfying--it is, after all, the story of white men coming in to rescue poor blacks--but it is beautifully shot and very watchable and features a terrific cast playing at the top of their games. --Ali Davis