Local Hero
directed by Bill Forsyth
(Warner Bros., 1983)

Local Hero has buckets of charm.

Although briefly set in Houston, Texas, and Aberdeen, Scotland, the film takes place primarily in Ferness, a remote village on Scotland's northern coast. A major Texas oil company wants to buy up the town, the surrounding beaches and cliffs to make way for a refinery, and a suit-and-tie negotiator is dispatched to make a deal.

You might expect the locals to resist the takeover, but the chance for these hardworking folks to become instant millionaires is impossible to resist -- for most of them, anyway. As one man remarks, you can't eat the scenery.

Peter Riegert (who will always be remembered best for his goofball role in Animal House) is Mac MacIntyre, who is a fish out of water in these rural, friendly and technology-free surroundings. Watching his transformation as he settles into small-town life is the film's greatest pleasure.

Burt Lancaster is oil magnate Felix Happer, a wealthy eccentric, while Fulton Mackay is Ben Knox, a Scottish beachcomber, equally eccentric, both poorer and richer than his American counterpart.

But the show is stolen by a grand performance by Denis Lawson (Wedge from the original Star Wars trilogy) as Gordon Urquhart, the local innkeeper, accountant and haggler. Keep an eye on his wonderful romance with the delightful Stella (Jennifer Black)!

Also worth watching are Peter Capaldi as the shy Danny Oldsen and Jenny Seagrove as the web-toed Marina. Then again, there's no one not worth watching here; the town is peopled with charming eccentrics, friendly 'til it hurts, from the crusty old fisherman to the young punk rocker.

Local Hero is funny, but never in a gut-busting, knee-slapping kind of way. The film is too subtle for that, and the humor is dry, clever and refreshingly intelligent -- and, in the end, far more memorable.

The movie boasts gorgeous scenery and the quaint village landscape found in most Irish and Scottish films. There is a message about life here, although it's not so overt that it gets in the way of the entertainment. It's a little wistful, too, urging viewers to keep their eyes on both the skies and the ground at their feet. As the local beachcomber tells Mac, "There's something amazing every two or three weeks. I'll let you know the next time."

As a bonus, Mark Knopfler's soundtrack is gorgeous, well suited to the rolling skies and bucolic lifestyle.

Local Hero is a gem. If you haven't seen it, do. If you have, watch it again. And again. And again.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.