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Two local heroes' tender declaration of love to Scotland.,
This review is from: Local Hero (DVD)
Knox Oil rules Houston. The Knox headquarters tower over the Houston skyline, and KNOX radio brings Houston its weather and traffic report. Knox Oil is owned by Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster), whose father bought the company from its Scottish-born founder; but unfortunately neglected to change the name to "Happer Oil." Now Knox Oil needs to obtain a location for a refinery in Scotland, and the most appropriate place happens to be a village called Furness, far up on the Northern Scottish coast. And the Knox people don't take no prisoners - they decide to simply go ahead and buy the whole village. The man they're sending to Scotland to negotiate is Mac MacIntyre (Peter Riegert), whose presumably Scottish roots are going to make it easy for him to bond with the locals and close the deal (actually, his family is from Hungary and changed their names to MacIntyre because "they thought that's America").
Reluctantly Mac takes off (he would much have preferred to handle the matter over the wires), bringing an electrically locked briefcase, a watch beeping a signal for "conference time in Houston," pictures of his Porsche 930 ("I got migraine headaches when I was still driving a Chevy") and the tough-nosed, textbook negotiating skills of a Texas oil man. He is not very impressed with the backwater ways of Furness at first - although he does instantly observe that there's "a lotta landscape here." But slowly and inexorably, his attitude changes. Walking along the beach, his steps grow longer and slower, more contemplative. He starts to collect shells. His business suit makes way for a woolen sweater. And his treasured watch dies a slow death as it tries to signal "conference time in Houston" one last time from its underwater grave. Instead of quickly closing the deal and leaving again, Mac has let the place get to him. And he is beginning to regret what this deal is going to mean for this place - nothing other than its total destruction. It will take a surprise visit from Felix Happer himself, prompted not by Mac's reports on the progress of the deal but rather, by his descriptions of the wonders of the Scottish nighttime sky, to bring about a decisive turn of events. For Happer's true love is not the oil business but astronomy; and before Mac left, Happer has charged him with the search for a comet because "the constellation of Virgo is very prominent in the sky right now in Scotland," wherefore Mac needs to "keep an eye on Virgo," to help Happer realize his lifelong dream, the discovery of "Happer's Comet." ("You do know what a comet is?" the tycoon asks, just to make sure. "I feel sure I'd know one if I saw one," a slightly flabbergasted Mac replies.)
"Local Hero" is one of those movies that capture you not because of the intricacies of their plot lines - the story moves along at a languid pace, almost tricking you into believing that there is no plot to speak of at all - nor does it require its participants to display acting skills, Hollywood style. It does, however, require them to be human; no silver screen champions but everyday heroes: "local" heroes, that is; the guys next door, ordinary people. There is, for example, Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson), the village's innkeeper, accountant and general spokesperson who, while negotiating a tough deal on behalf of the village population, also hosts Mac and, by introducing him to the "local ways," inevitably has a big hand in changing Mac's attitude. There is Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), Mac's Knox Oil companion from Aberdeen, who falls in love with a local marine biologist (Jenny Seagrove) with her own designs for Furness Bay, which have nothing to do with a refinery and everything with the bay's preservation. There is Viktor (Christopher Rozycki), a fisherman from Murmansk who has discovered capitalism on the remote Scottish North Sea shores and routinely stops by to visit his friends there and check in on the investments Gordon Urquhart has made for him. There is Reverend Macpherson (Gyearbuor Asante), who despite his last name is about as Scottish as the Lone Star in the Texas flag, but whose erstwhile presumably African accent, after years of living in Furness, has nevertheless taken an unmistakably Scottish tinge. And there is the local villagefolk; wily, earthbound, unpretentious and hard working, nevertheless almost over-eager to cash in; and far from stubbornly clinging to their roots, soon finding themselves discussing the relative merits of a Rolls Royce and a Maserrati (measured by the cars' respective utility in transporting sheep) and musing that "it ain't easy being rich." Except, that is, for Ben Knox (!) (Fulton Mackay), who owns an essential piece of the beach and who will not give up the land given to an ancestor of his by the king himself for "turning a thing for him" (killing the king's brother) centuries ago; not even for the promise of a couple of miles of pristine beach in Hawaii.
The movie's dialogue is as unpretentious and understated as it is witty - Glasgow-born director Bill Forsyth was responsible for the script, too, and it shows. But the film's single most outstanding feature is nature itself; the rugged cliffs, endless and ever-changing skies, windswept, forlorn beaches and stormy sea of Scotland's northern coast. And the brooding, melancholy mood of those beaches, cliffs, misty glens and mountains is perfectly captured by the music composed by another son of Scotland, Mark Knopfler (like Forsyth born in Glasgow), whose very first film score remains one of his most poignant and best-known to date - there probably isn't a Knopfler fan out there who doesn't instantly recognize the movie's theme song "Going Home," even if he has never seen the movie itself. "Local Hero" is Forsyth's and Knopfler's declaration of love to their native land; a humble, evocative appeal for its preservation which merits every bit of attention it has (belatedly) received.
Local Hero (1983 Film)