Local Hero is my all-time favorite film. On the surface it’s a quaint romantic comedy about an American fish-out-of-water in Scotland. But the film has layers that at first may not be apparent. The first time I watched this movie I knew absolutely nothing about it, and only watched it because I couldn’t find the remote, didn’t feel like getting up, and this movie came on. I had been planning to drift off for a lazy Saturday afternoon nap, and the slow, quiet pacing of this movie seemed like the perfect background noise to lull me off to la-la land. But a funny thing happened…I found myself getting caught up in the story and the characters, in the music and the cinematography, and in the near-magical mood of the film. The basic story is that an oilman from Houston, Mac MacIntyre (Peter Riegert), is sent to Scotland to buy up an entire town to become the site of a refinery.
The town is a tiny, idyllic fishing village, called Furness, populated by a cast of characters who may at first appear to be stereotypical, but turn out to be deeply drawn and fully realized, even if some of them only have a few moments of screen time. When I watch the film I get the feeling that each character, no matter how major or minor, represents the tip of the iceberg of a complex and real person. And I don’t mean that in the intense, method-acted, angst-filled, emoting-from-the-diaphragm perspective, I mean it from the humorous, simple, and natural interaction of actual people perspective. Mac tries to diplomatically address the disruption of lives and displacement of the locals, while the locals joyously (and secretly) can’t wait to sell at a high price. Mac’s negotiating opponent is the local chartered accountant, Gordon Urquhart, played with sublime canniness by Denis Lawson.
To tell more of the story would be a shame, as you should experience it for yourself. The layers of this film are not hidden or exposed, obscured or highlighted — they are merely there for you to see and/or feel for yourself. The topmost layer…which is the basic storyline…is very enjoyable in and of itself. The script is witty and poignant, the acting and directing are flawless, and the scenery is beautiful beyond description. My suggestion is that you get a copy of this film on DVD, then wait for a cold, rainy day when you have nothing much to do other than stay safe and warm at home. Have some wine, or a hot toddy, or some single malt scotch, unhook the phone, snuggle in and watch this movie. Then wait a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years, and then watch it all over again. Repeat as necessary.