Blu-ray Review: LOCAL HERO Arrives on Criterion Blu-ray, A Cynical Delight
Bill Forsyth’s sideways morality tale stars Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi, Denis Lawson, and Burt Lancaster.
Is it the old-world Scottish charm? The delightfully murky eco-morality of it all? The chance to see Burt Lancaster acting all weird? What exactly is it that makes Bill Forsyth’s sublime 1983 film Local Hero click?
The charm of it is almost as mysterious and aloof as the rolling fairytale fog that leads our big-city protagonist into the provincial seaside village (as commentator Mark Kermode refers to it, “the Brigadoon thing”) in which the heart of the story unfolds.
The plot at first seems to be gearing up to be the stuff of 800 cookie-cutter Hollywood clones. You know, the story that goes like this: A weary corporate employee looking to make a name for himself takes on a task that will be boffo for his company but detrimental to whatever locality he’s been tasked with convincing. After ingraining himself to their ways, customs, and probably a fair maiden, he begins to question his motives in all of this. Doggonit, how can a fella go through with this?? By the end, the good-hearted village folk have shown the hero the error of his ways, as he’s learned that there’s more to life then corporate success and kissing up to his boss, who’s turned out to be a world class jerk, anyhow.
Except, that’s not at all how this story goes.
To the subtle surprise of just about everyone and anyone watching, these quaint, set-in-their-ways locals are all too enthusiastic about selling out their centuries-old unblemished natural landscape so that a spacey American mogul (Lancaster, to be specific) can erect some massive, horrendous smoke-spewing petro-refining eyesore of a facility there.
For them, this would mean not only lots and lots and lots and lots of money, but also... a change. Something different. Something big and oily and ugly, yes, but different. With the whole village throwing themselves at him, how will our hero ever be able to go through with this…? As actual conflict does emerge, it too takes on a varied shape.
The film’s writer/director, Bill Forsyth, being Scottish himself, is never in any mood to condescend to any outside perceptions of the oh-so-cliched aspects of his people. In so doing, he’s tapped into a deeper heart of the Scottish subversionary tendency: he’s crafted a low-level, ever-relevant masterpiece that, in its staunch rejection of the kilted, brawling, staunchly boisterous Groundskeeper Willies and William Wallaces and whatnot, is simultaneously more repressively disgruntled, and far more humanizing of the ever-workaday populace. He’d be the first to point out that “the Brigadoon thing” is hooey.
The sullen, worn face of our young corporate stooge of a main character, Mac, sets the tone for all of it. In such, the actor who plays him, Peter Riegert, is the perfect man for Forsyth’s mission. His eyes are both intensely weary and reflective of a certain naive notion that even amid the varying parade of absurdity that he persistently finds him enveloped in (from his boss’s intrusive and completely unrelated fixation with the cosmos, to the room-sized toy-railroad-esque scale model of the Scottish village and the facility that is planned, to the sheer degree of non-challenge paired with conflicting displacement that his trip turns out to be.
The bottom line is that no matter the situation or surrounding, Mac is doomed to be a lonely soul. It’s a fundamentally unfunny notion in a movie that is achingly funny throughout. Look no further than the empathetic precision with which Riegert (as well as co-stars Denis Lawson, Fulton MacKay and the very committed Lancaster, among others) deliver Forsyth’s punchy yet deadpan brand of dialogue. That’s not to mention their selling of alarming situations rendered mundane: an adopted rabbit served an all to utilitarian fate; the awkwardly unanswered innocent question of “Whose baby?”, in regard to a stray infant who’s been pleasantly occupying the frame.
In the pointed comedic melancholy of it all, great truth is what we find at the deep core of Local Hero. When it comes to this particular film, there are many, many devotees who are far more qualified than this critic to unpack the long list of nuances that make up its magnetic texture.
Thankfully, Criterion has reeled in Forsyth fan number one, Mark Kermode, as well as Forsyth himself, sharing a commentary track. That said, the track dips into unintentional comedy as the former is far more engaged with minutia and making-of than the latter.
Interviewer Kermode’s struggle to keep Forsyth on track as interviewee is felt early on in the process. Likewise, Forsyth, in a separate newly produced on-camera interview, tends to come off as fairly exasperated with this whole Criterion bonus-features rigamarole.
He goes through the motions and jumps through the hoops, even as he takes perhaps some satisfaction in ever-so-slightly deflating a bit of Local Hero’s acquired mystique. In such, this singular viewer must admit that although Forsyth is a welcome and valued presence, there’s something almost sleep-inducing about his contemporary role herein.
The full list of bonus features on this Criterion edition is as follows:
· New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
· New conversation between Forsyth and film critic David Cairns.
· Shooting from the Heart, a 1985 documentary about the work of cinematographer Chris Menges.
· Episode of The South Bank Show from 1983 about the production of the film.
· The Making of Local Hero, a documentary made during the film’s production, featuring interviews with actors Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert.
· I Thought Maybe I’d Get to Meet Alan Whicker, a 1983 interview with Forsyth on his early career in documentaries, his first narrative features, and the success of Local Hero.
· An essay by film scholar Jonny Murray.
That’s a lot. It’s incredibly well-curated and well-produced, but also, a lot. Depending on one’s level of fandom coming into the fold of Local Hero, this buffet can be received as anywhere between a veritable feast to an intimidating overstuffing. Therefore, newcomers to this fantastic film should feel no shame in taking on a more meager initial portion. It will all keep for later as Local Hero both ascends and settles in one’s conscience.
In the meantime, one should not hesitate in making the trip to Criterion’s Local Hero. The overcast wonder, mystery, and the dulcet tones of Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler’s first film score make for an uncommonly irresistible, enriching, and satisfying journey.