Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Monday, 26 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Local Hero (d. Bill Forsyth, 1983)

It is a very simple plot. A multi-national oil company attempts to buy out a small seaside town in Scotland, but one resident cannot be bought. There is no great complexity here. Local Hero is uncomplicated, and yet it is a story which deals with so much: greed, redemption, love, loneliness, the idea of one person being able to change things far bigger than himself, and what the point of having a life might be anyway are all covered here in a sweet and funny tale.

Even though it does do all of those things, it should not be thought that the film is at all heavy-handed. It is quite the opposite. In fact, the cornerstone of the charm of this film is how relaxed and natural it feels. It is not a comedy which attempts to go for huge laughs but is very funny with subtle humour and wit permeating both Bill Forsyth’s script and his direction. Everything is handled with the lightest of touches, and as such the film is hugely watchable and entertaining and just seems to achieve greatness effortlessly.

Most of the film’s running time is spent in the small Scottish town, and it is populated with a number of characters who, whether their appearances are lengthy or fleeting, are all perfectly sketched. Most notably Denis Lawson as Gordon Urquhart and Fulton McKay as Ben deliver wonderful, rich performances as the men of the village who are, quite simply, very good company for 100 minutes or so.

As for the oil company, we have a nicely underplayed performance from Peter Riegert as MacIntyre, a character who remains quiet, enigmatic and ultimately bittersweet throughout the whole thing. There is even an appearance from a young Peter Capaldi, who would go on to receive great fame as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and In the Loop, but who is a million miles from that here and is, frankly, rather sweet as Danny Oldsen.

However, the star of the show is Burt Lancaster as oil-tycoon Felix Happer. The film’s producer, David Puttnam, spent a huge amount of time and money securing the services of Lancaster knowing that his star power would make the production viable, but the great man’s performance excedes his billing.

Happer is a strange character -  a man who is amiable but also clearly quite weird and maybe even troubled. Though we rarely have a private moment with him, Happer is the heart of the film. A man who has it all, in contrast with the townsfolk who have nothing, he is, regardless, conspicuously unfulfilled. Happer’s journey through the film is a “Can’t buy me love” in a film character, but Lancaster carries it off with panache.

Alongside all this wit, charm and quality, we have an awful lot of beauty. The film is shot in some of the most attractive parts of Scotland and the red evening skylines are the images which remain in the mind, after the film’s end but these gorgeous and almost other-worldly images are accompanied with a wonderful score from Mark Knopfler which sets the spine-tingles going at points.

One would usually suspect that a film which is this effective would demand lengthy exegesis, but this is a near-perfect execution of simplicity in film. You will be hard pressed to find a more subtly entertaining and, above all, a more truthful film out there.

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