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Ed Driscoll, over at Instapundit, linked to an old Bleat by James Lileks. In it, he mentions putting on the soundtrack to Local Hero, which he says, “…might be the one record I cannot live without”. I have to agree with him. It is a beautiful work of early ’80s atmospheric music with Celtic seasoning, written and performed by Mark Knopfler. I bought the soundtrack before I had ever heard of the movie, because I was such a fan of Dire Straits. When the movie showed up on HBO, I was apprehensive about watching it. The music is so good in its own right, and I feared a terrible movie would ruin my listening pleasure.
I need not have worried. From the opening shot in Houston, TX to the final fade of a small Scottish fishing village at dawn, every scene in Local Hero is perfect. Written and directed by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, Comfort and Joy, Breaking In), this is a movie that will appeal to all ages and tastes. The basic story is of a young, status-conscious oil executive, MacIntyre (Peter Riegert – Animal House), who is sent to acquire an entire Scottish village so his company can build a refinery there. Mac figures he can close the deal in a day or two, but the villagers know why he’s there, and do their best to delay him. In the meantime, he begins to fall in love with the slower-paced life and the community the people of the town enjoy. Burt Lancaster plays Knox Oil’s slightly batty CEO, Happer. He is obsessed with discovering a new comet, and continually asks Mac for updates on the night sky. There’s also a young marine biologist who might be a mermaid, a Russian sailor who is an avid capitalist, and an eccentric beach bum who isn’t quite the fool he appears to be.
This is a movie that rewards repeated viewings. It is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, but the humor is very understated. I’ve watched it more than a dozen times, having owned versions on VHS tape and DVD, and every time I watch it, I discover something new. For example, when I watched the new Criterion Blu-Ray edition last week, I noticed for the first time how much Mac needs a telephone to communicate with others. Even though the film is set in the pre-cell phone era, he is constantly picking up a phone to talk to someone, even if it’s someone in his office on the other side of a glass wall.
Knopfler’s soundtrack is one of the most sensitive and evocative I’ve ever heard. It complements the movie perfectly, and it is an integral part of the viewing experience. The final swell of the Local Hero Theme never fails to give me a lump in my throat. So, if you haven’t seen Local Hero, I highly recommend it, and if you have seen it and loved it, Criterion’s new edition is well worth getting.