Back in the day we always watched a crappy film on New Year’s Eve as a joke – actually, still do. Last year it was Ron Howard’s “Rush” about the Formula One auto racing circuit (and it was international-class bad). More than a generation ago, I got a VHS copy of “Local Hero” thinking it had to be worthy of derision, but it turns out that I loved it. I remain sorry I missed it in the theater. And, so I have watched it many times over the ensuing years. It is a serene film with a great message and my ongoing opinion was reinforced when I recently watched it again. Check it out, but only if you are in a reflective mood and don’t mind a film with virtually no action.
(1983; 111 minutes; rated PG; directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert and Fulton Mackay)
PATIENCE, REFLECTION FOUND IN ‘LOCAL HERO’
(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion, a bit more trivia and the updating of links on Nov. 15, 2016.)
“Chariots of Fire” (click here for my review) showed in 1981 that a reflective, message-heavy film with a slow pace (read “British”) could excite audiences. Well, it did to the tune of four Oscars including one for Best Picture. Now, “Local Hero” from two years later isn’t anywhere near Oscar-quality, but it has an almost indefinable sense of serenity where you are slowly absorbed into the atmosphere of the film.
“Local Hero’s” pace isn’t just slow, it’s glacial (read really “British”). “Chariots of Fire” runs circles around it (no pun intended) when it comes to excitement. Still, “Local Hero” has an identity all its own and a wonderful performance from Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster as well as from several supporting cast members you’ll most likely not recognize.
“Local Hero” is the story of a U.S. company looking to buy an entire town in Scotland for oil operations in the North Sea. It sends Peter Reigert, who plays oil executive “ ‘Mac’ MacIntyre,” to the town to negotiate its purchase. It soon becomes obvious that everyone in town is aware of what’s going on, but while Reigert remains clueless that his mission has been compromised, he begins to fall in love with both the town and a woman.
Here’s a look at some of its principal cast:
- Oscar winner (not for this one) Lancaster plays “Felix Happer,” the owner of Knox Oil, and has fun with role from his passion as an amateur astronomer to dealing with his obsessed therapist to flying into Scotland to take negotiations into his own hands. Lancaster is smooth, firm and relaxed here. He was also in “From Here to Eternity” (an Oscar nominee for this one), “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “Field of Dreams” and the little-remembered but hilarious “Tough Guys” (click here for my review) with fellow legend Kirk Douglas. In addition to his Oscar win, Burt was nominated three other times and won for “Elmer Gantry” in 1960.
- Oscar nominee (not for this one) Reigert, who was most famously “Daniel ‘Boon’ Shoenstein” in “Animal House,” does a workmanlike job here maintaining the low-key atmosphere. He becomes entranced by the town and it shows when he returns home. Reigert was also in “The Mask,” “Passed Away” and a string of TV shows and movies including the outstanding HBO film “Barbarians at the Gate” (click here for my review of “Barbarians”). He was nominated for a live action short and not for any of his big-screen work.
- The best supporting actor is one-time Primetime Emmy nominee Denis Lawson as “Gordon Urquhart,” the town’s accountant, hotelier and all-around financial adviser and jack-of-all-trades. Lawson plays his role to perfection from the calculating position he has with Reigert to his hot-blooded side with “Stella,” played by Jennifer Black. Lawson is best known as “Wedge” in three “Star Wars” films and has also been in “Acting Out,” “Perfect Sense” and a string of TV performances.
- Close to Lawson is the over-the-top performance (by this film’s standards) by Norman Chancer, who plays Lancaster’s therapist “Moritz.” Chancer, who also has a “Star Wars” credit as well as being in “Gandhi,” keeps hammering away at Lancaster’s self-esteem through profane phone calls and finally putting a crude message up on the tycoon’s penthouse windows. Chancer is practically the only person who raises his or her voice in the film and he’d be considered a calming philosophical presence on any MTV or TruTV reality show today.
- Also close is Christopher Rozycki, who plays “Victor” the Russian fishing trawler skipper who dips his hand into capitalist markets through Lawson. Rozycki, who was also in “The Saint” and “Truly Madly Deeply,” is outright jovial in the midst of understated performances.
- The paragon of virtue in “Local Hero” is Jenny Seagrove, who plays marine scientist “Marina.” Although Seagrove initially appears to be clueless about the true purpose of buying the town, she’s actually perceptive all along and truly smarter than everyone around her. Seagrove was also in “The Guardian” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
- Pining after Seagrove is Oscar winner (not for this one) Peter Capaldi, who plays “Oldsen” who is a Knox Oil executive in Scotland. He falls completely in love with Seagrove with first sight and spends the rest of the film chasing her. At the time of “Local Hero,” Capaldi was young, energetic and has the gangly Rowan Atkinson-Brit look and physical motions. He’s been in “Dangerous Liaisons,” “World War Z,” “In the Loop” and a string of TV roles. Like Reigert, Capaldi got his Oscar nomination for a live action short – but unlike Reigert, he won the statue.
Director Bill Forsyth obviously takes his time with “Local Hero.” His symbolism includes such small details as the UK’s signature red telephone booth along the waterfront to a watch left in tidal basin as the water comes in and the ongoing thread where a motorcyclist zips past actors. Simple. Direct. Effective.
At the end, everything is tied up in a neat, serene bow that satisfies everyone except Reigert, who’s left in Houston and not Scotland. But, he can make a telephone call …
“Local Hero” won a BAFTA award (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – their Oscars) for best film and Forsyth for best director (he also got a BAFTA nomination for the screenplay). The film was nominated for four other BAFTA awards, including Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack and Lancaster for supporting actor.
“Local Hero” made $5.9 million and was the 92nd ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1983, according to Box Office Mojo, and was made on a budget of £3,080,000 (it’s a film out of the UK). In contrast, the No. 1 film was “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” at $252.5 million. Here are the other films from 1983 that I’ve reviewed:
- “Christine” (neat Stephen King sci-fi) – click here for my review
- “A Christmas Story” (Christmas classic) – click here for my review
- “Easy Money” (hilarious Dangerfield) – click here for my review
- “Octopussy” (so-so 007) – click here for my review
- “Trading Places” (sensational comedy) – click here for my review
- “WarGames” (really solid) – click here for my review
Other cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- A good performance by Fulton Mackay, who gets second billing as “Ben Knox” in Scotland, gets kind of lost because of his subtle, easy style. It’s an important performance in the film, yet under-noticed. Mackay’s career was mostly TV roles and began in 1949. He died of cancer at 64, three years after the release of “Local Hero.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The asteroid ‘7345 Happer’ is named after actor Burt Lancaster‘s Happer character in this movie who is keen on astronomy. It also fulfilled Lancaster’s wish to have a comet named after him.”
- British songwriter-rocker-guitarist Mark Knopfler did his first soundtrack score “Local Hero” and it apparently did better on the charts than the movie did at the box office.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “After the movie came out, many people went in search of the village with the red phone booth. It can be found in the village of Pennan on the Moray Coast, Scotland.”
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Was Vice-President Al Gore’s favorite movie when asked by Oprah Winfrey during her September 11, 2000 program. Gore was a candidate for President at the time.”
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