Local Hero (1983)

Some movies can have a long review just to explain them, others can be written in a few short sentences, this is one of the latter. This is not because of it being bad, but rather the opposite. It is a straight forward, well written and calmly directed piece which drags you in from the start and keeps you entertained until the end. Having watched it once, you will find yourself happy to repeat the experience as it pops-up from time to time.
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, 1981) the cast is made up of some very understated stars. Peter Riegert (We Bought A Zoo, 2011) stars as the hard pressed executive sent to Scotland by Burt Lancaster’s (The Leopard, 1963) character Felix Harper. Harper the company’s CEO (Knox Oil & Gas) sends Riegert’s character (Known as “Mac”) partially because Harper thinks “Mac” has Scottish ancestry. This opening also shows how Harper can be truly narrow minded, focused on a result and dragging everybody else along, regardless of how they feel about it.
Harper has plans for an oil refinery and the townland of Ferness in Scotland is the perfect place, only problem is, he does not own it. Mac’s job will be to go to Ferness and convince the locals to sell-up. Adding an extra angle to the story Harper gives Mac an additional instruction to watch the clear night sky in Virgo and let him know back. Mac having a life in Texas tries to organise for all this to be done over the phone, but Harper insists on him being in Scotland.
Upon arriving he meets with Knox’s local man; Oldsen (Peter Capaldi, Dr. Who, 2014) and of course to add interest there is the local marine biologist, Marina (Jenny Seagrove, Judge John Deed, 2001)
Not being the biggest town in the world, Mac stays in the local bar/hotel which is owned by Gordon Urguhart (Denis Lawson, The Machine, 2013). As with many of these films being exposed to the locals and their way of life causes Mac to start to have reservations about the refinery project and the impact it will have on the local population. Of course things are never quite as they seem. Gordon not only runs the hotel but he works with some of the various fishermen who visit the port to actually manage their investments, none more so than with Victor, (Christopher Rozycki, Truly Madly Deeply, 1991) the Soviet trawler man who is a regular visitor to the town. Using parallels to Whisky Galore (1949) we see that life is hard enough for the locals and to be honest, they would be more than happy to sell up, but being who they are, they are putting on a long face and trying for as much more money as possible.
Mac and team soldier on with all the usual love and commercial complexities as the movie progresses, but then there is a twist, it turns out buying-up the town is one thing but when it comes to the beach and foreshore, there is a complication. The owner. He happens to be an old beachcomber by the name of Ben, (Fulton Mackay, Porridge, 1974) who actually lives on the beach in a self-made shack. Caught up in this and what looks like increasing issues with the locals it is starting to look like the purchase may not take place. In to all this Harper arrives and through a series of pleasant misunderstandings and his ability to effectively ignore what is being said to him, he actually manages to progress things. The dialogue with Ben, Mac and Harper is fantastic with some great one-liners. Sides are set, Ben does not want to sell, Harper wants the land and Mac is caught in the middle. Negotiations look like going nowhere. Faced with this Ben and Harper start to talk on the beach and well kindred spirits reveal themselves and a solution is found.
Movies like The Grand Seduction (2013) clearly owe a lot to Local Hero. Such is the quality of this film that it is one of those which is used as a bench-mark against others are measured. This is a case-study in how to write a story, direct the image and not over complicate or distort the output to a level which ruins and causes a lesser offering. This is simply a well-crafted story with a great ensemble cast.
8/10

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