"Mac" MacIntire (Peter Riegert) works for a huge oil company in Houston, Texas, but today he is going to be assigned to visit a place on business he has never been to before. It's not anywhere in the United States, it's across the Atlantic on the west coast of Scotland because the company has decided that there is the perfect location for what they hope will be one of the biggest oil refineries in the world. Mac has been sent there due to his bosses thinking he is of Scottish descent; he is not, but nevertheless agrees to go after a pep talk by the head man, Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) who is keen that he report back about the astronomy of the place as well as the deal he is making...
A story that could never be made in the era of the mobile phone, Local Hero looked pretty old-fashioned even when it was released, and many observed how writer and director Bill Forsyth harkened back to a golden age of British cinema when Ealing comedies or Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were at their creative height. Yet this weaves a spell all its own, taking its time about building up the characters and the mood, so that you could call it slow if you were not so captivated by spending time in the company of these people, all of whom have their own quirks - some more apparent than others, but all carefully drawn out over the course of the story.
Mac's destination is a small Scottish fishing village which he has been ordered to make certain they agree to be bought by the oil men of Knox Industries so that the refinery may be built there. He thinks he is doing some secret negotiations, but it turns out everyone in the place is well aware of the intentions, and are planning what to do with their cash already. Mac is met at the airport by Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), their representative there, and things are very different from his life in Houston as he realises when on their car journey to the village, they have to stop because they've hit a rabbit in the mist and are forced to spend the night where they are.
That rabbit is the first sign that Mac is going to be changed by his time here, as the hardnosed businessman calls it Trudy after his ex-girlfriend and once he reaches the hotel the next day, keeps it in his room for it to recover. The leader of the community is Gordon Urquhart (Denis Lawson), who appears to run most of the village single-handed, being the owner of the hotel, the resident chartered accountant, and "occasional taxi driver". Urquhart is very keen to see his and his compatriots' home bought up for millions of pounds, and much of the plot hinges around this culture clash - a clash that is actually more of a gentle bump, yet seeps into the bones of all concerned.
While there are very funny moments, Local Hero works better as a drama laced with humour. Forsyth is happy to inject gags and bits of characterful business almost as asides, but his real trick is making the film appear unsentimental and keen eyed when really it's filled with a warm and nostalgic glow, helped by quite some distance by Mark Knopfler's canny soundtrack. Among those personalities that add such colour are Jenny Seagrove's Marina (was someone a Stingray fan?), the marine researcher who wants a lab built in the village, Fulton Mackay's Ben, the beachcomber who is unwilling to sell what turns out to be his beach, and his equally eccentric counterpart Happer, who also falls in love with the peaceful place and its skies. The people here are changed by their encounter, but in a good way, realising that money won't necessarily buy their contentment, a message that could have been glib in other hands, but is put across with such sincerity that you believe it completely, yet still can leave you reflective about paths not taken with one of the great endings in cinema.
Scottish writer and director whose gloomily whimsical comedies brought him worldwide recognition. Starting as an industrial filmmaker, he made the no-budget That Sinking Feeling which got him noticed enough to make the classic Gregory's Girl. This led to the similarly well-crafted and heartwarming Local Hero, and the less successful but no less enjoyable Comfort and Joy. Forsyth moved to America for his next films, quirky drama Housekeeping, crime comedy Breaking In, and ambitious but misguided Being Human, then finally returned to Scotland, and his first big success, with ill-received sequel Gregory's Two Girls. He has now retired from directing to concentrate on writing.