Local Hero – 1983


Written and Directed by Bill Forsyth
Starring Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Fulton Mackay, Burt Lancaster, Jenny Seagrove, Christopher Rozycki, Peter Capaldi

Peter Riegert is “Mac” McIntyre (Riegert), a deal maker for Knox Oil and Gas out of Houston Texas. Given his last name, he’s sent to Scotland to make a deal to buy the whole village of Ferness so they can put a refinery there. The somewhat unique chief of the company, Felix Happer (Lancaster) tells Mac to keep his eyes on the stars. Mac takes this request somewhat seriously.

Once he arrives, Mac has one of those fish out of water experiences that became all the rage in the ’80’s. This story is way more subtle than what we would see in later efforts. Even more, it’s only part of the whole story that we experience. What he doesn’t know is that the village is more than willing to take the check and move on down the road. Gordon Urquhart (Lawson) is the leader of the contingent of folks who are trying to play hard to get, but really want to take the deal. Then we discover local eccentric Ben Knox (McKay), who is key to the deal. Problem is, he’s content with staying where he is currently residing.

There is a idiosyncratic ease to the presentation of the townsfolk. We get so many different slices of life from so many different characters, it truly feels like we’re visiting people who’ve known each other all of their lives. They leisurely take in outsiders like Mac and Russian Boat Captain Victor (Rozycki) and everyone is content. It is hard to understand why they’d ever want to trade their life for a new opportunity.

Like our protagonist, we’re learning the ropes of the town, slowing down and keeping an eye out for that motorcycle that whizzes by every time one steps outside. Forsyth is at his best when he concentrates on the town and its surroundings. Even when Capaldi’s Danny falls for a local Marina (Seagrove), its the sweetness that overcomes the goofy attempts at humor.

Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack is interesting. It’s subtle, but engaging. It’s clearly something he’s comfortable with, even if he at the time was on the verge of superstardom.

The only challenges with the film take place in Houston, with Lancaster’s character. He is undergoing some sort of therapy in some ham handed attempt to add humor to the film. The therapist’s attempts are just stupid and one can almost feel Lancaster the person bristling at the notion of the script making him jump through such insipid hoops. An actor the caliber of Lancaster is fully capable of taking on the role of eccentric kook without the help of people acting silly around him, as the last act shows.

The film works exceptionally well as a comedy when in the village. The characters play off of one another with a precision only won through time spent together. Everything they do works. Reigert is a willing foil to many of these moments, but he’s not necessary at all for the story to move forward. This is life in the port village of Ferness. Mac just happens to be there. That’s a strong cast that can create such an environment.

Denis Lawson’s Urquhart is a highlight of the film. His easy going nature is fun to watch. He doesn’t bother explaining his actions. He just acts them out, and immediately were at ease. It’s hard to believe that Ewan McGregor’s uncle Lawson never became a bigger star outside of his native Scotland. He’s a magnetic presence.

Speaking of presence. Lancaster is under utilized here. Understandably, this is a film that features Reigert, who at the time was up and coming. Reigert is fine and he does a great job, especially in the second act getting to know the town. His presence dims in Lancaster’s light, though. Perhaps that is the way it is supposed to work. Perhaps I am still annoyed at how poorly they used Lancaster for half of the film.

This is the only thing that keeps Local Hero from perfection. It’s glaring enough to feel like it’s part of another film entirely. If we could keep it all within the confines of Ferness, life would be perfect. Even if the town is open to another deal.

(**** out of *****)

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