Directed by Bill Forsyth. UK. 1983.

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In Local Hero, Scottish director Bill Forsyth allows us to see the environment not as something to possess or control but as a privilege granted to all of us. A young corporate executive for a Texas Oil Company, Mac MacIntyre (Peter Reigert), is sent to a small fishing village on the coast of Scotland to work out plans to buy a piece of coastal property that includes the entire town as a drilling site. The great Burt Lancaster plays Mac's boss, Felix Happer, a starry-eyed tycoon of Knox Gas and Oil who is more interested in the stars and getting rid of Moritz (Norman Chancer), his "abuse therapist" than his business. Strangely, he asks Mac to keep an eye on the constellation Virgo when he reaches Scotland to see if he can see a comet in its vicinity. 

MacIntyre meets up with his Scottish partner Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi) and they rent a room at an inn run by the local accountant Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson) and his wife Stella (Jennifer Black). Eventually, Mac and Danny settle in and get to know the town, walking the beach, talking to the black pastor of the village church, and meeting the idiosyncratic villagers. Mac slowly and without any expectations develops an attachment to the town and its people while Danny falls for Marina (Jenny Seagrove), a marine biologist with webbed feet who dreams of building a laboratory for biological research. 

When Urquhart agrees to act as the intermediary between MacIntyre and the locals in the negotiations, we are set up to expect the ruthless exploitation of country folk by the big city capitalists. Ironically however, it is the villagers who are captivated by the prospect of the money and more aggressive in its pursuit than Big Mac. The deal seems ready to be consummated when it is discovered that Old Ben (Fulton MacKay), who lives in a shack on the beach, actually owns six miles of beach property and does not want to sell. When the townspeople threaten to turn into an ugly mob, Happer arrives from Houston in his helicopter to add the final twist to a most unpredictable plot. 

Local Hero creeps up on you slowly then delivers its payoff so convincingly that, by the end, you feel as if you have a lifelong relationship with the characters. Mac's transformation from being a corporate sycophant to a caring individual who experiences a sense of belonging, perhaps for the first time, is one of the great pleasures of the film and reminded me of a similar transformation in Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us. Supported by a wonderful score by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and beautifully photographed by Chris Menges, the film captivates with its offbeat humor and charm and reminds us of what it means to be human without resorting to cheap sentimentality. If technology is seen as an imminent threat to humans, Local Hero allows us to focus our attention upon that which is most threatened: respect for people's individuality, reverence for the land, the sea, and the sky -- and really good Scotch whiskey.

Howard Schumann
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