Local Hero is one of those quirky Bill Forsyth movies that never go where you expect, and keep leading you up paths that turn out to be red herrings. No character in it can be said to be straightforward, even the main character, Mac, played by Peter Riegert. He’s supposed to be a tough wheeler and dealer for a big oil-company, but he proves just as soft as all the rest. Burt Lancaster has an odd role as the chief of the company, who spends most of his time on his own, or with his therapist, a man whose absurd agenda doesn’t quite seem to match that of his client. The rest of the cast are typical Forsyth characters, people who seem unwilling to go quite in the direction a typical story would take, which consequently often leaves the audience shaking their head at the weirdness of it all.
There are daft scenes at every point. Half a dozen fishermen stand around talking to Mac, with a toddler in a pram amongst them. Mac asks who’s child is it. The men look to one another in turn. Are they indicating that it could be anyone’s child, or that they don’t know, or that they’re not even sure what the child is doing there? We never find out, because the scene cuts and moves to something else. The publican turns out not to be the publican, even though he runs the hotel, and cooks the meals, and acts as barman. He’s also the local accountant, and a bit of a wheeler-dealer himself. The priest is black, with a Scots name, a man who doesn’t quite seem to know what he’s doing in this out of the way place. A young girl dressed in ragged jeans, with her hair spiked up, and a painted face, wanders in and out without remark by anyone else – except when she starts to chase the Scotsman who works for the oil company in Aberdeen. Then it turns out she already has a boyfriend – in the local band. The main female character spends most of her time in the water, like some nymph, or silkie. An unidentified person buzzes past on a motor scooter almost every time someone steps into the street. The publican and Mac agree to exchange their lives in a tipsy moment and then carry on as normal the next day. An old guy does impressions of famous film stars for another old man – all the impressions look the same – and the other old man gets them wrong every time. And the ending is a slap in the face for the audience, with Lancaster swapping places with Mac, and Mac arriving back home in Texas with two pockets of sea shells. Suddenly the film stops.
The film is well known – there are plenty of reviews on IMDB – but isn’t much seen. As someone notes, the film score is better known than the film.