Nine Reasons to Watch Local Hero


Dear readers, someone at KCET loves you. Well, everyone at KCET loves you, but some wise soul has your interest particularly in mind this week, for he or she chose this week's movie: director Bill Forsyth's 1983 sleeper hit Local Hero. Haven't seen it? Indeed, it may be the least-known Sunday night movie KCET has offered in weeks. And though it's a more recent and less famous film than, say, To Have and Have Not or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's a wonderfully offbeat thinker of a film that's well worth your time. Here, then, are nine reasons to catch Local Hero.

Bragging rites. The next time your smartypants friends are talking film, and someone brings up some understated, undiscovered gem of a film, you can retort with "But have you seen Local Hero?" It's that unknown among American film fans, and this 1983 film -- which, by the way, couldn't be less 80s in terms of style or substance -- can go toe-to-toe with any contemporary offbeat dramedy playing at the neighborhood art theater.

It's incomparable, in the literal sense. The easiest way to introduce anything new would be to explain what it's like. I've racked by brain and have been unable to think of any single good comparison for Local Hero, a fish-out-of-water tale of a Houston energy exec who travels to the Scottish village of Ferness in hopes of laying the groundwork for an oil refinery. In that sense, Local Hero may remind you of Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure, with the newcomer protagonist, Mac (Peter Reigert) functioning like Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper or Rob Morrow's Joel, encountering and gradually coming to love the central town's affably kooky residents and the surrounding natural environs. But keep in mind that Local Hero hit theaters years before either of these series. If anything, they owe Local Hero.

Mark Knopfler. Who doesn't love Dire Straits? While shots of the picturesque Scottish countryside may draw you into this film, the soundtrack by the band's frontman, Knopfler, truly sets the mood. The central theme, "Going Home," is in particular a standout. Knopfler still plays it in concerts today.

And if it reminds you just a bit of the Twin Peaks theme, I won't blame you. Nor will I be surprised if you're charmed by another track featuring the vocals of the late Gerry Rafferty. According to IMDb, the financial success of the film itself was actually dwarfed by that of the soundtrack.

The sea and the sky. Not to get all English major-y on you, but writer-director Bill Forsyth really wanted his audience to consider two central images in this film: the ocean below and the heavens above. Seriously, watch for how many times the dialogue or the shots reference the sea or the sky -- sometimes one directly after the other.( It's no coincidence that the film's female leads are named "Marina" and "Stella.") Hell, make a drinking game of it. You will get hammered.

That Burt Lancaster is a real star. Speaking of the sky, Local Hero left a legacy that few other movies can boast. Burt Lancaster (From Here to Eternity) plays the protagonist's boss, Felix Happer, an oilman unusually fascinated by astronomy. At one point, he expresses his lifelong dream of having a comet named after him. He almost got his wish: Canberra-based astrobiologist Dr. Duncan Steel was apparently so enamored with Local Hero that he actually named an asteroid 7345 Happer, in honor of Lancaster's character. Sure, an asteroid isn't a comet, but come on -- how many astrological bodies are named after you?

Henry Winkler. Love the guy. He's not in this movie. The role for which he was considered went to the aforementioned Peter Riegert, a Chris Parnell-like everyman. Rieger has played many roles over the course of his life, but he's maybe most familiar for Assemblyman Zellman in The Sopranos. (He's also currently in We Bought a Zoo, that Matt Damon flick whose title makes it sound like a Dr. Seuss adaptation.) Be glad Reigert got this role over the Fonz.

The top 100. Remember how I said that Local Hero exhibits none of the qualities one might associate with the term "80s movie"? Regardless of that, Premiere magazine still placed it on its list of the top 100 movies of the entire decade. And if you think about the great number of good 80s movies -- dayglo spandex and new wave soundtracks notwithstanding -- that's mightily impressive for this rather small Scottish movie about a town of polite eccentrics.

What people are saying about it on IMDb. The Internet Movie Database boasts a system in which users can post their own reviews. If you're not sold on whether you should stay in Sunday night and watch Local Hero, then click on over to the list of these reviews. There are 171 total, and nearly each tells the same story: "I almost didn't watch this movie because I didn't know anything about it. But I did, and it was one of my greatest movie discoveries. I go back and watch it again and again, and each time I take away something that I didn't notice before." With its rather unassuming nature, Local Hero may not be the kind of movie you'd grab off the shelf at a rental store. But that's why this Sunday is so special. KCET is making it easy for you. Local Hero comes to you. Why miss up a chance to have a new favorite movie?

Calling Scotland. The payphone? The one that plays a central role in the film's plot? It didn't really exist, but Local Hero fans asked about it that the Pennan, the village where the film was shot, that a pay phone was installed.

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