Monday, June 15, 2015

Local Hero

How I love Bill Forsyth's LOCAL HERO.  It's like a favorite article of clothing, a standby comfort food, a long desired vintage wine.  The writer/director's insightful films usually inspire amusement and warm feelings upon reflection.  While GREGORY'S GIRL and COMFORT & JOY are similarly, fondly recalled, this wonderful movie is in its own class.  One of the reasons for this is its patience.  The film is in no hurry to rush along a plot or assault you.  Even in 1983, this seemed unusual for a major studio production.

MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) is a Houston corporate executive for Knox Oil and Gas. A confirmed city boy who reluctantly flies to a wee Scottish seaside village called Ferness to help facilitate the town's demise via a planned oil refinery.  As you might expect, Mac's directive will change as he meets the locals and is entranced by the scenery and develops a liking for a slower pace.  I suspect a reluctant viewer or two had much the same experience with LOCAL HERO itself, gradually won over by its charms.

How can one resist the eccentricities of Forsyth's characters?   Knox CEO Felix Happer (a spry Burt Lancaster) has a keen interest in astronomy and undergoes his own metamorphosis.  There's a Soviet boat captain with capitalist leanings who regularly checks his stock portfolio.   Ferness residents include a discreetly (though frequently) amorous hotelier/accountant and his wife and a codger who lives on the beach and will die fighting if necessary to keep it free of any "progress".  There's even a mermaid, though don't expect her to don a curvy fish suit ala Darryl Hannah in SPLASH.  Knox will be seduced by their and the town's Old World manner, even finding himself lovingly brushing seashells one afternoon.   None do exactly what you'd expected of them, at least not all of the time.  And none are as simplistic as you might think.

The low key vibe Forsyth creates is familiar to those with a taste for foreign cinema, yet all his own. Magical, in some way.  Scenes play past the expected cutoff, long after a witticism is uttered.  Many are lengthy conversations about big and little things (that are actually big things).  His screenplay is not merely a stinger to corporate America, not a simplistic "return to nature" or ecological sermon.  Also, not just a "technology is evil" polemic.  This remains true even at film's end, when Knox is back home in his luxurious, modern apartment, sitting and longing for the modest town and its genuineness. Sounds paradoxical?  I'll leave it to you to discover how the director weaves his disparate elements to a satisfying climax.  Bonus: Mark Knopfler's sublime scoring.

The humor in LOCAL HERO is fairly dry, more observational than joke-laden.  The only element I can recall that has any root in inherent silliness is the running gag of Happer's psychologist's outlandish efforts to reach his patient.  Their final meeting (of sorts) is funny enough though a bit out of step with Forsyth's usual style.  It almost feels like a script note from Warner Brothers honchos.
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