Local Hero is a low-key but interesting British Comedy Drama. Directed by Bill Forsyth, and released in 1983 it has its flaws, but also strengths.
‘Mac’ Macintyre (Peter Riegert) is a successful, slightly arrogant executive working for Knox Oil and Gas, a large company based in Texas. Putting around the lie that he is Scottish-American (He is actually Hungarian) he is summoned to the offices of the companies boss Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster, in one of his last roles). Happer is looking to open a refinery in Scotland, and sends Mac there to buy out the coastal village of Ferness, Mac isn’t particularly keen; he enjoys his comfortable life, and is more at home using machines to negotiate.
It is at first glance a fairly predictable film, the plot is somewhat clichéd, the opening in America is frankly boring, and Mac seems a typical American with few interesting characteristics. But the film quickly picks up pace and becomes very enjoyable, if not completely accomplished.
Arriving in Scotland Mac meets up with Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), a representative of Knox’s Scottish branch (who can speak 11 languages), visiting Knox’s research facility in Aberdeen they see a model of Furness and get an idea of the task that awaits them. Riegert and Capaldi, whilst limited by an occasionally clunky script, and at first, a seemingly predictable narrative, share a convincing chemistry and give good performances.
Whilst there Danny notices marine Researcher Marina (Not a particularly inventive surname, but still there are bigger issues in the film…) (Jenny Seagrove) captivated by her, she forms the film’s love interest, and makes the most of her underwritten role.
On the way to Ferness, their car breaks down in heavy fog, giving Mac and Danny time to bond, and showcasing some impressive Scottish scenery (though, there is not surprisingly atrocious weather). Early the next morning Mac finds an injured rabbit, and keeps him as a pet. (Until he is amusingly and rather cruelly disposed of that is…)
Finally arriving in Ferness, Mac and Danny check into a Hotel run by sex-obsessed Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson, who Portrayed Wedge Antilles in the Original Star Wars trilogy) who also doubles as their accountant (everyone in the village seems to have two jobs). Initially Mac feels somewhat ill at ease in the town, but as time passes he adjusts, coming to respect the quaint ways of the locals. Mac begins to feel guilty about the task he is burdened with, but ironically unknown to him, the locals are more than ready to leave, tired of the hard life, and isolated conditions they endure, only holding out on Urquhart’s instructions, who feels he can get a better deal the longer they wait.
Filmed and set largely in Scotland, the film uses a real Scottish village (Although the name has been changed), and real Scottish actors, giving an insight into local conditions, and including informative dialogue about the northern lights, and local wildlife.
Eventually most of the locals agree to sell, with the exception of one, the somewhat eccentric Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay, clearly having fun in the role) who lives in a shack on a local beach. Lumbered with a potential stumbling block, Mac phones Happer, for help. Happer soon arrives, bringing the story to a clichéd but enjoyable ending.
Burt Lancaster has a rather limited amount of screen time, but makes the most of it; his Happer is a very eccentric creation, an obsession with astronomy and some peculiar mannerisms make their mark, as does his rather odd therapist (their relationship provides some very funny moments in the film).
In contrast some of the other characters don’t have quite so big an impact, many of the locals in the village are given only a few lines, often having a limited, or non-existent purpose in the narrative, largely remaining forgettable. Christopher Royzycki portrays Victor, a cheery Russian Fisherman who periodically visits the village, though the character isn’t particularly annoying, his purpose in the story often is: giving out clichéd advice and engaging in some terrible singing. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spend on the script, as by and large, the supporting cast give convincing performances, worthier of better dialogue and increased screen time.
Director Bill Forsyth doesn’t waste time with flashy camerawork, or confusing metaphors, he shoots simply and quickly, guiding the cast to largely impressive performances, and giving the film a bright and breezy tone. A memorable music score is utilised, complementing the story surprisingly well.
Local Hero is a film with few laugh out loud moments and a relatively leisurely pace, some viewers may struggle to enjoy the setting or rather predictable plot, whilst others will be uncomfortable with the idea of making a comedy based around the oil industry. But for others the simple, accessible plot, a few instances of inspired comedy, and the odd setting will make this an enjoyable if not truly memorable way to spend some spare time. Coarse language, sexual content, and violence are largely absent as well, making it a suitable watch for anyone above the age of 12.