A 1988 film [[VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory very loosely based]] on the investigation of the murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 Mississippi. Two FBI officers (Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe) must work their way through a hotbed of county-wide lies and deceit, with little support from citizens, to solve the murders.
!!This Film Contains Examples Of:
* BadassBookworm: Agent Ward.
* BigDamnHeroes: Sadly subverted with the attacks on the black community, as none of the FBI agents are able to prevent these attacks.
* BystanderSyndrome: Discussed when [[spoiler: the mayor hangs himself]].
--> '''Agent Bird''': I don't understand why he did it. He wasn't in on it. He wasn't even Klan.
--> '''Agent Ward''': Mr. Bird, (The Mayor) was guilty. Anyone's guilty who lets these things happen and pretends like it isn't. No, he was guilty all right. Just as guilty as the fanatics who pulled the trigger. Maybe we all are.
* ByTheBookCop: Agent Ward, [[spoiler:until Mrs. Pell's beating convinces him that playing by the book won't lead to justice]].
* CowboyCop: Agent Anderson.
* DangerouslyCloseShave: The FBI agent played by Gene Hackman intimidates a member of TheKlan who was getting a shave by replacing the barber.
* DomesticAbuse: [[spoiler:Deputy Pell beats up his wife when he finds out that she has helped the FBI.]]
* DrivenToSuicide: [[spoiler:The Mayor]]
* FalseFlagOperation: After he talks to the feds, Lester gets attacked by fellow supremacists in shrouds, chased out in to the woods, and strung up. The FBI agents arrive just in time, chase off the attackers, and save him, telling him he was lucky he was being monitored. They convince him they won't always get there in the nick of time, and that he'd better testify against the others and receive protection from the government. [[spoiler: Of course, the attackers are feds in disguise.]]
* GreyAndBlackMorality: Toward the end, once the FBI adopts Anderson's preferred tactics.
* GroinAttack: Anderson inflicts one on a Klansman.
* HighHeelFaceTurn: [[spoiler:Deputy Pell]]'s wife [[spoiler:informs on TheKlan. She gets beaten up for it, but survives]].
* ItsPersonal: Agent Anderson after [[spoiler:Mrs. Pell, to whom he was attracted, is beaten by TheKlan for being an informant]].
* JurisdictionFriction: Justified, because many of the cops [[spoiler:are in league with the Ku Klux Klan]]
* KangarooCourt: Several Klansmen are tried for arson in a local court that has ''no'' intention of imposing any real punishment for the crime.
* KarmaHoudini: [[spoiler: Sheriff Stuckey manages to be acquitted in Federal Court in the conviction montage at the end of the movie. And none of the others get more than ten years in prison.]]
* TheKlan: Featured prominently.
* LaserGuidedKarma: The crooked mayor (played by Creator/RLeeErmey) gets this in the form a black FBI informant who after telling him the story of a teenager who was castrated by a couple of Klansmen, threatens to castrate him if he doesn't talk. Lester Cowans ''almost'' is [[spoiler: lynched by his fellow Klansmen who think he will talk. It was actually FBI disguised as Klansmen in order to scare him into talking]].
* MightyWhitey: The two FBI agents who come in to speak on the behalf of those oppressed and end up bringing national attention to the situation in the South. In truth, the civil rights movement in the area was already thriving and FBI agents investigated the Klan only under heavy pressure from the President.
* NiceJobBreakingItHero: Many of Ward's well-intentioned, by-the-book actions early in the film make the white population of Jessup County feel angry and threatened, which only makes matters worse for the black community. Anderson calls him out on this, to no avail (at least initially).
* OldCopYoungCop: Anderson and Ward, although Ward is apparently Anderson's superior.
* PoliticallyCorrectHistory: FBI agents as heroes to the Civil Rights Movement. As most historians know, J. Edgar Hoover was no fan of the movement in RealLife and the agency in fact took several notable measures to undermine and sabotage the movement (although individual agents as depicted here, of course, may have had differing views on the situation).
* ScaryBlackMan: The FBI brings in a professional Scary Black Man to intimidate the corrupt mayor into revealing who committed a hate crime.
* TheSheriff: Jessup County's sheriff does ''not'' appreciate FBI interference in his county's affairs, [[spoiler:since he's in league with the Klan himself]].
* SmugSnake: All of the Klan members, who despite being cocky and dismissive of the FBI, start cracking as the FBI pours on the pressure.
* SoundtrackDissonance: The lovely hymn "When We All Get To Heaven", played over the scenes of yet another vicious Klan attack.
* SouthernGothic: while nothing supernatural is going on, the film has such a heavy and oppressive atmosphere that at times it borders on becoming a southern gothic.
* StoicSpectacles: Agent Ward.
* VillainWithGoodPublicity: TheKlan appears to be this among the white citizens of Jessup County, although [[spoiler:Mrs. Pell]] probably isn't the only one who doesn't like the violence but is too frightened to speak up.