If you’ve never seen Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, drop whatever plans you have this evening and get on it. This is a curious one to review because no description could adequately impart its exact timbre. A hangout film, a low key culture clash dramedy, but more than anything specific or definable it’s just about a few Americans, a few Scots and one hard drinking Russian chilling out together in a small coastal village somewhere in Scotland.
Director Forsyth doesn’t so much construct a thought out script to screen here as he does take an anthropologist’s eye in telling the tale of an American oil conglomerate who sends their top fixer (Peter Riegart) to a small beach community in Scotland with hopes of buying up much of the coastline for an incoming refinery project. This would of course make the townspeople very rich, yet on the other hand take away their homes that have been in the family for generations and leave the natural environment bleeding. This isn’t so much an ‘us vs. them’ thing or any kind of struggle in any way though. Riegart (who is a fascinating dude and who I can only recall in two other projects, the cop opposite Jim Carrey in The Mask and a tiny cameo in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic) and his aloof assistant (Peter Capaldi) simply blend into the local scenery, chill out and get to know these folk on a naturalistic, believable scale of behaviour. Making friends with the local innkeeper (Dennis Lawson) who doubles as the town accountant and pretty much mayor too, singing songs, talking philosophy to the stars and basically unwinding. The oil company’s CEO (Burt Lancaster) has hilariously little interest in developing a refinery and would much rather sit on the beach with a telescope observing the heavens.
Films this subtly pleasant grow on you and are honestly a balm for the soul, an oasis for perception to vacation in for an hour or so when things can get rough, which for the past year has basically been the story of my life. Forsyth sees these people as not just characters in a script, there to serve story, but just that: people, human beings. Riegart’s oil man is nothing like the brash, cocky big city slicker that some filmmakers would have turned him into. He’s gentle, open to new experiences and ultimately in awe of the way of life he finds in this community. The townsfolk aren’t hostile, protective or scornful of him again like some films would paint them, they’re quaint, wrapped up in their elegiac daily rumination and see him simply as another dude they can have a pint with at the end of the day. I love and admire artists who have what they takes to make a film stocked with actual people instead of cardboard characters, and you don’t see that all the time. A wonderfully eccentric microcosm of two factions of society and not so much how they clash, but more how they cordially find themselves in the same place by circumstance and simply make the most out of it. Great film.