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A low-level executive of a powerful Texas oil company is dispatched to the picturesque Scottish hamlet of Ferness with instructions to buy the place out, lock, stock and citizen. The eccentric head of Knox Oil, Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) plans to turn the peaceful beachside into the petrochemical capital of the world, due to its proximity to the rich North Sea oil-reserves and MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) gets the job because his Scottish background is assumed, but not actual. To Mac's surprise, star-watcher Happer seems less interested in closing the deal than having a man on the spot to keep track of celestial objects in the sky. Mac begins negotiations for sale with the innkeeper Urquhart (Denis Lawson) and things progress smoothly ... before stalling at the final hurdle.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Bill Forsyth was the movie world's most respected Scotsman after he won the British Academy Award for Gregory's Girl in 1982 and the most revered after he followed the whimsical Local Hero with a beguiling duo, Comfort And Joy (1983) and Housekeeping (1987). Forsyth's finest films are steeped in wit, whimsy and charm but wallow playfully in the man's own melancholy. He was an idealist who coveted tranquil expression and a realist who abandoned his quixotic dreams when they petered out, along with his audience.

All this is manifest in this mystical and delightfully eccentric tale, inspired by a true story, which is reminiscent of those priceless Ealing comedies of the 1940s and 50s. When Mac motors into picturesque Ferness, a fish out of water in his Texas suit midst the roll-necks that positively reek from catch-of-the-day, he exudes an air of efficiency, arrogance and money. Under instruction from wacky tycoon Felix Happer, an obsessive stargazer bored with business success who subjects himself to psychological abuse to escape the humdrum of company yes-men, Mac is commissioned to buy the idyllic village which nestles beside the oil-rich North Sea.

The rustic buildings of sea-salted stone are to be bulldozed to make way for a belching refinery that will become a black splat on the shoreline, much like an Exxon disaster. Terms are negotiated by the wily Urquhart, the innkeeper who takes care of official business in Ferness and drives a canny bargain for the townsfolk who appear to lack the devotion to their unsullied coastline that outsiders might expect.

The locals take somewhat for granted the shimmering lights, an astronomical phenomenon of the Northern Skies, which casts a spell over Mac whose intoxication isn't entirely due to Urqhuart's artful dodgings. Lured by aurora borealis, it's Happer, the star-struck big bird who descends from the skies, ostensibly to clinch the faltering deal only to be taken by a kind of celestial reverie himself. Forsyth is clearly captivated by the quaint and curious charms of this chilly outpost, his vivid contrasts between the hubbub of Houston and the blissful isolation of Ferness might seduce the most committed city-slicker to a sea-change. A single red telephone box which dominates the main street is the blot on the landscape that symbolises the encroachment of the outside world.

But if the rest of the scenery is stunning the performances are sublimely underplayed. Lawson turns pragmatism, geniality and cunning into an art form; Riegert (in a role once mooted for Henry Winkler) perfects the brash American who finally gets in touch with humanity; Lancaster, in a role written especially for him, is a rib-tickling mix of business, bluster and madness and Peter Capaldi as the gawky and gangling assistant who falls in love with a mermaid might well have inspired Mr Bean! Lent a lilting and lyrical quality by Mark Knopfler's instrumental hit Going Home, Local Hero is both disarming and charming. With a surprise at every turn of the negotiating screw, we learn that everyone has their price, all right ... but money is as weak as it is powerful.

October 6, 2005

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(UK, 1983)

CAST: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Fulton Mackay

DIRECTOR: Bill Forsyth

SCRIPT: Bill Forsyth

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

PRESENTATION: 4:3; Dolby Digital 2.0; English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Picture gallery; biographies

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 22, 2005

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