Lancaster gets Trumped
"Local Hero" on paper sounds like a corporate greed movie with its tale of an American Oil Corporation wanting to buy up a whole Scottish village to set up an oil refinery. And sounding like a corporate greed movie you have the David Vs Goliath aspect with a local unwilling to bow to the pressure of the invading Americans. But the irony is that not only is the local refusing to bow to pressure not the actual hero but "Local Hero" is in fact a more personal, soul searching movie and an amusingly whimsical one at that. It almost takes you by surprise because everything you think it will be about it isn't and whilst that may be a little strange it then grows on you delivering a surprising warmth from the way the characters develop and the brilliant Mark Knopfler soundtrack.
When the board of an American Oil Corporation decide they want to buy up an entire Scottish village to set up an oil refinery they send over 'Mac' MacIntyre (Peter Riegert - Animal House) to negotiate because he has a Scottish sounding name. But the CEO has another mission for Mac as he wants him to study the night sky for unusual things such as comets. Having reached the secluded Scottish village Mac soon discovers that the locals are very willing to sell, even the local vicar. But there is one problem and that is Ben Know (Fulton Mackay - Defence of the Realm) a beach comer who lives in a shack and actually owns the beach because he doesn't want to sell despite numerous offers and the pressure of the locals.
So as already mentioned "Local Hero" is not as simple as it first appears and whilst having a story about an American corporation trying to buy up a whole Scottish village it is in fact not a movie about corporate greed. It's not even a movie about environmental issues even though the subject of nature and the importance of the village's bay crop up as a reoccurring theme. In fact "Local Hero" is a movie about people and how they change, how they can be swayed by the promise of wealth whilst others can find what they are missing in life even when they don't know they are missing anything to start with.
It is the development of character which makes "Local Hero" so good especially in the main character of Mac who we watch go through a complete change. When the movie starts he is full on corporate, talking to people on the phone with just a glass office wall in between them, sending telexes instead of communicating face to face and bargaining on everything. But we watch him change, watch these facets of his character get worn away as he spends time in the Scottish village where he sees the beauty of the land and makes friends with the locals. And in doing so he discovers the human interaction which was missing in his life, without ever knowing it was missing in the fist place. It's beautifully done and writer/ director Bill Forsyth never forces this change, allowing it to flow at an ever so subtle pace that it only really hits you when the movie ends.
But "Local Hero" is not just some deep tale about Mac as it is also a whimsical comedy. Now it almost seems obvious that being set in a remote Scottish village that there will be the quirkiness of small village life, but whilst expected it's still fun. From Denis Lawson as Gordon Urquhart who happens to not only run the hotel but is also the villages lawyer/ accountant through to the local vicar and the fishermen who all help each other out. It's all highly amusing as is the marvellous switch on the title as the local hero is not the man who opposes the buy out of the village but in fact Mac as everyone champions him at the thought of getting rich quick.
But Bill Forsyth doesn't settle at that as whilst you have the epiphany like tale and the whimsical nature of village life you then have the more over the top comedy of corporate boss Felix Happer who is less interested in the oil business and more interested in the stars. Happer almost feels out of place being so over the top quirky as he asks Mac to watch the skies for signs of a comet but it adds the life that this easy going comedy needs. And in a clever way it's through Happer's instructions to Mac about watching the night skies that leads Mac to go through a change, to give up on trying to negotiate and just go along with life instead.
All of which makes "Local Hero" sound like a packed movie but in fact it is remarkably laid back and has a wonderful natural flow to it. It also has a wonderful soundtrack thanks to Mark Knopfler with the actual theme music being magically perfect. And it also has some beautiful camera work which not only captures the beauty of the locations but then also combines the whimsical at the same time so never does it feel that a shot of a night sky has been included just to be beautiful, but instead to aid in developing the character of the village.
And the crowning glory is the casting from the quirky locals with Denis Lawson and Fulton Mackay doing a nice touch on the whimsical whilst Peter Riegert as Mac shows complete restraint by making his character very normal. It is the fact that Mac seems so plain that his transformation is so subtle, never becoming forced. But it is Burt Lancaster as Felix Happer who steals the show with his quirky star gazing corporate boss who provides plenty of laughs by being the exact opposite from what you expect.
What this all boils down to is that "Local Hero" is a surprisingly good movie which takes you by surprise by being opposite to what you expect. From the focus being on Mac finding what he is missing in life through to the quirky Felix Happer it just grows on you, keeping you interested despite its laid back almost horizontal nature. Add to this the scenic locations, the brilliant Mark Knopfler soundtrack and an array of whimsical characters and it is a movie which not only takes you by surprise but one that you also remember.