Director Alan Parker’s burning 1988 thriller stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as FBI agents with greatly conflicting styles investigating suspected Ku Klux Klan murders of three young civil rights activists in the American Deep South in 1964. Oscar-nominated Hackman is splendid as the powerful former Mississippi sheriff Agent Rupert Anderson and the film’s core is his developing relationship with cold, idealistic, FBI-trained Agent Alan Ward (Dafoe) after they come to a small Southern town where segregation divides black and white.
Parker turns an incendiary, harrowing and terrifying real-life thriller into one of his finest films, and does not falter in his handling of the race issues, though black activists objected to the way the film casts the white FBI men as heroes and blacks as one-dimensional victim figures.
There are two other outstanding performances, by Brad Dourif as the sadistic deputy sheriff Deputy Clinton Pell and Frances McDormand as his wife Mrs Pell who gradually comes to trust Hackman and spill the beans on the Klan. Also impressing in the cast are R Lee Ermey as Mayor Tilman, Gailard Sartain as Sheriff Ray Stuckey, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Rooker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frankie Faison, Kevin Dunn and Park Overall.
Parker excludes the use of flashy visuals from his film this time, but the visuals still look great and Peter Biziou won an Oscar for best cinematography, the only one of the film’s seven Oscar nominations to win. They include Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director. Chris Gerolmo provides an impeccable screenplay and Trevor Jones a fine score.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 4146
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