WHAT I LIKED: Bill Forsyth's 'Local Hero,' follows an American oil executive called Mac (Peter Riegert) who's sent to the Scottish village of Ferness on the pretence that he's supposed to win the locals round to aquiring their land for development, but it's one of those quirky little films that never really reveals what its plot is in service of until the end.
Starting stateside, the whole thing initially seems to be a satire of corporate Americanisms, as Mac's life is almost surreally set up to look as lonely and empty as possible, whilst his boss Happer (Burt Lancaster) appears like a Bond villain; complete with Lair, psychological issues and an obsession with space and naming a comet after himself. In a similar vein, Mac's way of life - obliviously to him - is taunted not just by the filmmaking, but then by the locals in Ferness (particularly Denis Lawson's hilarious character) who sarcastically mock him at every turn.
It's then seemingly revealed however that the villagers are attempting to take advantage of Mac by stringing him along and getting him to pay extra for their relocation. There's little hint at the toll that might take on their lives, just that they want to become rich, so then it slowly seems to become about how the prospect of money can undermine the spirit of a place, especially as they all start to gang up on one person who won't comply.
But in the end, when the story does a final act one-eighty and Mac is sent back to the US to stare longingly out of his lonely apartment balcony, it ultimately becomes about him and how much better his life was back in Scotland.
The strange thing is that no one of those things - least of all Mac's character arc - ever really draw the majority of your focus prior to the end, because on the one hand the deal overwhelmes almost every conversation, but also because the script and direction is so understated. There's not a single moment where you're told what to think by the camera or the dialogue; the film simply observes snippets of characters' organic conversations from a relative distance and lets you draw your own conclusions. It thus takes quite some time for example to realise what the locals are planning, and a similar length of time to realise that the film thinks that's amusing rather than foolish because their conversations just go in so many different directions.
That nature means it's a film that just sneaks up on you and doesn't make any kind of impact until its concluding frames, but the humour of it and the comfort of the Scottish community depicted will always keep you somewhat entertained. The town really does feel like a real community, the landscape is beautifully captured by Forsyth's camera, and Mark Knopfler's score adds even more warmth to the atmosphere of the place than what comes across on screen.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The script and direction does arguably lack a clear drive, as its understated conversations never seem to be in service of one thematic point.
Mac's arc never really gets the attention it deserves to make that ending about him missing Scotland impactful for example, the constant cuts back to Hubbert's harrassing psychiatrist add nothing to the story and don't tie into anything at all, and the constant motifs about the sky (planes in the Highlands, Mac and Hubbert closely observing the stars and the Northern lights from either side of the pond) never seem to make any points either.
VERDICT: A quirky and sporadic film with very little clear thematic or character drive, Bill Forsyth's 'Local Hero,' largely gets by until the end on its Scottish comedy and warm, comforting atmosphere.