Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero"
This genteel Scottish comedy made quite a debut over two and a half decades ago, as critics and audiences fell in love with its quiet humor and fairy tale-like quality. Now, after putting it off for so long for no real reason, I sat down to "Local Hero." To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Peter Riegert is great as Macintyre, a deal broker for a Houston-based oil company run by Happer (Burt Lancaster). Mac is sent to the west coast of Scotland to buy a tiny village and beach there so the oil company can set up a massive dock and refinery. An easy in-and-out job, although Mac is more used to working out of his office. In Scotland, he meets with the company's local rep, Danny (Peter Capaldi), and the two drive to the remote hamlet.
In town, Mac and Danny begin careful negotiations with hotel owner and accountant Gordon (Denis Lawson). The trio dance around the real reason Mac and Danny are there, but word eventually spreads that the seaside folk are in line to get millions for their homes. Everyone seems happy and ready to sell except old Ben (Fulton Mackay), who lives on the beach and gets by using whatever the ocean washes up to him. The entire town waits in anticipation as Ben is wooed by Mac, Gordon, and Danny, and Mr. Happer himself decides to handle the situation.
Do you remember the television series "Northern Exposure"? A big city doctor moves to Alaska, and deals with all sorts of quirky small town characters there. "Local Hero" reminded me of that show (and yes, I know the film was produced first). The problem is I hated "Northern Exposure" and its winking "wacky" humor, and I found myself disliking "Local Hero" for the same reason. I simply do not like quirk. Giving a character quirky tendencies and nothing more is a lazy way out of writing a full character, which becomes obvious at the expense of the film.
Happer is an isolated billionaire who pays someone to berate and abuse him to remind him he is human. Mac isn't really Scottish, his Hungarian family took the name because they thought it was American. Danny falls for a marine biologist named Marina (Jenny Seagrove), who has webbed toes like a mermaid. Gordon and his wife Stella (Jennifer Black) are madly in love, and not able to keep their hands off of each other. All of these qualities are fine, but do not add up to interesting people. Instead, Forsyth tries to get us to see the same pull that Scotland has on Mac- beautifully shot (by Chris Menges) beach scenery mixed with low chuckle inducing humor.
Isolated small town British humor has been done well before (see "Whiskey Galore!), but "Local Hero" had me bored and frustrated, despite the cast's good performances. Unanswered questions and incomplete subplots abound, as Forsyth attempts cinematic bait and switch. When the hell did Mac suddenly fall in love with Stella? Never mind, check out an umpteenth shot of a silhouetted figure looking out over the bay. What is Ben's connection to the oil company? Shhh, we have a little more quirky business going with the old boat sign painter. The motorcyclist roaring through town (a running gag without humor is simply repetitive), the only baby's parentage, the Russian fisherman who drops in out of nowhere, the African priest, Danny and Mac's rabbit; all seem like idea germs that were to be fleshed out later, and were never given a rewrite. I wasn't looking for "American Pie" gross-out antics, but watching this made me want to rent "The Secret of Roan Inish" again, just to see magical realism (that "fairy tale quality" I heard so much about) put beautifully on film.
The cast is good; so is the cinematography and Mark Knopfler's score. Maybe you can get a better grasp on what Forsyth was trying, but I found "Local Hero" to be a chore. (* *) out of five stars.