Blu-ray Review: Local Hero | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, July 11th, 2020  

Local Hero

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Oct 04, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

There’s a long scene in the second half of Local Hero which wonderfully encapsulates the film as a whole. All the townies in the fishing village of Ferness, Scotland gather in a sterile-looking hall to throw a big party. The music is provided mostly by an awkward band of local teens, as well as anyone else on hand—the hotelier joins in for an accordion duet, and a Soviet tourist sings a sloppy, drunken ballad. The camera meanders about the gathering while our lead signs a gigantic contract to purchase the entire town in the adjoining kitchen. Nearly everyone gets very drunk. Old men attempt to impress each other with unidentifiable impressions of bygone Hollywood stars. A boy gets jealous as his punky crush dances with a charming outsider. An old woman swoons at our slurring Soviet’s song. At the desserts table, the friendly neighborhood vagrant stuffs his pockets with baked goods to be eaten back at his shack. It’s a moment of celebration, but one that’s bittersweet: the people of Ferness have all just become incredibly rich, but in doing so they’ve signed away their quaint, centuries-old home to be developed into an oil refinery.

It’s the sort of party where you feel like you’re familiar with everyone there. At best, we’ve met a significant portion of these characters only in passing; many haven’t even been given names. But the magic of Bill Forsyth’s beloved 1983 comedy is that it’s a setting that viewers come to inhabit—go native, as you will—much like it’s protagonist, “Mac” MacIntyre.

A junior executive for an American oil company, Mac (Peter Riegert) is picked to fly off to Scotland and personally handle the acquisition of a two-horse beachfront town that is crucial to Knox Oil’s next, big ocean refinery plan. He’s picked up at the airport by local rep Danny Oldsen (Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi, surprisingly young-looking here) and taken to Ferness, where they book a room at a hotel run by Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson)—who also doubles as the tiny village’s primary accountant, and the man who will broker the Knox deal on behalf of its local landowners.

Over the course of a couple weeks while the deal is slowly put together, Mac gets to know the people of the town and fall in love with the surroundings—which is a far cry more pastoral than the posh life he lived in Houston. 

In one of the numerous bonus documentaries included on the new Criterion disc, Local Hero’s producer describes the film as a “gentle comedy.” There are numerous laugh-out-loud moments, but all of them are embedded in its rich characters—every one feeling natural and plucked from just the sort of middle-of-nowhere depicted here. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town will recognize the harmless eccentricities that are fostered in such places.  Where many comedies would have tilted toward the zany, Local Hero has a genuineness to it that’s rare in modern comedies. Local Hero finds joy in simplicity.

Top billing went to Burt Lancaster, a legend who plays a relatively small but very memorable part as the idiosyncratic president of Knox Oil, Felix Happer, who is more interested in the movement of heavenly bodies than running his company. His antagonistic relationship with his therapist is the movie’s silliest running gag.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release is newly restored in 2K, and looks excellent. The disc includes some amazing vintage materials, including a full episode of The South Bank Show which followed the movie’s entire production and offers one of the best peeks inside a studio marketing meeting that we’ve ever seen. (There’s also a vintage Making Of documentary and contemporary interviews with the filmmaker and cinematographer.) On the newer end of the spectrum are a 2018 commentary by Forsyth and a recorded conversation between the director and critic Mark Kermode. Local Hero is an overlooked classic, and this is a highly recommended pick-up.



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