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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Local Hero (Blu-ray)
Local Hero (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // PG // September 24, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 4, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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The exquisite charm of Local Hero (1983), Scottish director Bill Forsyth's wry, magical comedy set in a remote, quaint village in the Highlands, beguiles most who have seen it, but pinpointing exactly why it's so uniquely disarming isn't so easy. A description of its plot and characters offer few clues. Forsyth himself in interviews says story and plot are, to him, pretty irrelevant. It's a movie better experienced than trying to unravel its mysteries in print.

Forsyth debuted with the extremely low-budget ($10,000) feature That Sinking Feeling (1979), a funny comedy about four Glaswegian teenagers who think they'll strike it rich stealing stainless-steel sinks from a warehouse and sell them on the black market. Forsyth's second film, Gregory's Girl (1981), another eccentric, low-key comedy, about high schoolers in Cumbernauld, attracted an international audience, prompting Local Hero, a more ambitious and widely-acclaimed film aided by American financing and a veteran Hollywood star.

Comfort and Joy (1984), a hilarious shaggy dog story about a radio disc jockey (Bill Paterson) caught in a middle of a violent clash between rival ice cream companies, followed, while Forsyth reached an artistic peak of sorts with Housekeeper (1987), a similarly eccentric but tonally quite different film, as much a drama as a comedy, about a nonconformist aunt and her two adopted nieces in rural America (though it was filmed in Canada).

From there, the filmmaker's fortunes inexplicably tumbled. Breaking In (1989), with its screenplay by John Sayles and featuring an excellent late-career performance by Burt Reynolds, was quite good but hardly anyone saw it. Being Human (1994), an anthology film something like Buster Keaton's Three Ages (1923), fared even worse. It was a spectacular flop: a $40 million Robin Williams movie few people know exists even now. Since then Forsyth has directed but a single film, 1999's Gregory's Two Girls, a sequel to his first hit, eighteen years before. Politically and sexually daring in some respects, it too failed to find a broad audience, despite falling in quite nicely with Forsyth's other work. I've seen all of his movies except Being Human and they're all uniquely precious in one way or another, but if audiences are aware of Forsyth at all, it's almost entirely due to Gregory's Girl and, especially, Local Hero.

Houston-based oil company acquisitions executive "Mac" MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) is assigned by the company's stargazer president, Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster), to buy up the entire Scottish village of Ferness, so that the entire town can be razed and its pristine beach dug up for a new oil refinery to be built in its place. Happer envies the nighttime skies Mac will experience while visiting "the old country," unaware Mac's family actually immigrated from Hungary.

In Scotland, Mac is met by oil company representative Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi, late of Doctor Who), and after briefly visiting a company research facility in Aberdeen, where Danny instantly falls in love with marine researcher Marina (Jenny Seagrove), together the pair make the long drive to the Highland Coast, hitting but not killing a small rabbit along the way, which they decide to take with them.

In Ferness, Mac and Danny become acquainted with Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson, of Star Wars and New Tricks), owner of the local hotel and the village accountant serving as liaison with the villagers for negotiations concerning the sale of their properties.

Within days, the quiet charm of the impossibly gorgeous village works its seductive magic on Mac and Danny, and they become concerned about the locals' willingness to give it all up. Unbeknownst to them, they are only too eager to sell out, for the millions to be made off the rich American oil company. As another visitor, a capitalist Russian fisherman (Christopher Rozycki) tells Mac, "You can't eat scenery."

It's been interesting revisiting Local Hero nearly adjacent to recent viewings of several classic comedies from Britain's Ealing Studios, and The Baker's Wife (1936), a French comedy exemplifying director Marcel Pagnol's interests in rural villages and their inhabitants in the south of France. Like the Ealing films, Local Hero has a gentler, slightly off-kilter approach to its humor, skewering institutional stereotypes, while, like Pagnol's films, it captures the humorous qualities of villagers and their perceptions toward outsiders, and outsiders toward them.

This manifests in many forms, all understated and methodically unfolding: the locals bemused by Mac's admission that he has only one job, in a village where everyone doubles-up with work to keep the hamlet running; a traditional cèilidh, a social gathering with much dancing and more drinking, where Danny is relentlessly pursued by the island's one punk rocker, a determined lassie decked out like an extra from Sid & Nancy.

Can a 2019 audience abide a movie as leisurely and lovingly paced as Local Hero, whose charms are as ethereal and delicate as Hollywood's high-concept ones are literal and obvious? Part, I think, of what makes Local Hero work is that while the escapist beauty of the town, the beach, the ocean, and the stars is so inviting, and we in the audience vicariously fall in love with it just as Mac does, the picture itself is not remotely sentimental. The villagers aren't sentimental about their homes, about Mac's injured bunny rabbit, nor of the old songs sung and danced to so gaily at the cèilidh. Yet it's not a cynical film. Rather, it's almost a kind of tribute to the dreamers: villagers dreaming about getting rich off the deal and starting new, glamorous lives; Danny about lovely, web-footed Marina, a mermaid with a Scottish burr; Mac fantasizing about trading places with Gordon and becoming a publican; and, toward the end, Happer and like-minded local Ben (Fulton Mackay) about the stars and galaxies above them.

Video & Audio

  Criterion's Blu-ray is presented in 1.78:1, adapted from the theatrical aspect ratio of probably 1.85:1 (given its American financing) or maybe 1.66:1. Notes aren't specific about the source of the 2K, director-approved transfer, but the image has a fine, film-grain quality, and the color so important to the mood of the film remains vivid, with much of the picture shot at twilight. The mono soundtrack was derived from a 35mm DME magnetic track. The region "A" disc is closed-captioned.

Extra Features

The bountiful supplements include a new and interesting interview by David Cairns with Forsyth, during which he produces a wonderful letter of congratulations from director Michael Powell and talks about his preference for "behavior" over "acting." There's also a 2018 audio commentary with Forsyth and critic Mark Kermode. "Shooting from the Heart" is an hour-long career profile of director of photography Chris Menges, while a 1983 episode of The South Bank Show follows the making of Local Hero from conception through release, and features interviews with Forsyth, producer David Putman, and actors Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. It also runs about an hour. Another documentary, "The Making of ‘Local Hero'" also traces the film's production, with more of the same. There's also a 1983 interview with Forsyth called "I Thought Maybe I'd Get to Meet Alan Whicker," a trailer, and a booklet essay by Jonathan Murray.

Parting Thoughts

A magical film wonderfully presented here and supported by scads of extra features, Local Hero is a DVD Talk Collectors Series title.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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