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Film / Local Hero

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US Film poster depicting Mac, left, and Happer, right.

A rather charming 1983 film directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Peter Capaldi (in his film debut) and Burt Lancaster. This thoughtful comedy-drama follows an American oil company executive, "Mac" MacIntyre (Riegert), who is sent to negotiate with the local inhabitants of the Scottish town of Ferness because their home lies on prime coastline for new petroleum and chemical processing facilities.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: At the Céilidh Danny is pursued - rather aggressively - by a female punk. He finds her abhorrent mainly because she's not Marina.
  • Airplane Arms: Danny at one point, combined with a truly Girly Run (making this the film debut of both Peter Capaldi and the Girly Run of Peter Capaldi, both seen in other acclaimed works for decades to come).
  • All Men Are Perverts: Danny is constantly thinking about sex. Either for himself, or wondering about the sex lives of other characters.
    Danny: What are you thinking about?
    Mac: Girls. Naked girls. In fish tanks.note 
    Danny: Me too.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Happer. He has no wife or children, shows no interest in romance at all, is Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life, and only seems to find it when he meets another man around his age. The film never really delves into that question, however.
  • And Starring: "And Burt Lancaster." In spite of the US poster's picture he's not the main character, but he is the biggest name and his role is one of the most important to the plot.
    • The poster used in the rest of the world is much more low key, just showing the phonebox and Mac with his trousers rolled up
  • Angry Mob: When the townsfolk learn that Ben won't sell his land, which is absolutely crucial to their fortunes being seen through, they organize this. Luckily, as they arrive on the beach Happer arrives via helicopter, an event which defuses the tension.
  • Awesome Music: In-universe example: everyone is excited to listen to Victor sing "Lonesome Cowboy".
  • Bilingual Bonus: Russian speakers will chuckle at Victor and his lady's argument, culminating in Victor dismissing her by saying in English, "Silly bitch."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone gets what they want except Mac, who deeply regrets having to leave the idyllic town of Ferness. The film ends with him calling the town, so maybe he at least gets to maintain a friendly correspondence with the folks who live there — though the fact no one is there to answer may indicate that the people of Ferness have no interest in the type of communication Mac used to enjoy in the beginning of the film..
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Felix Happer is an eccentric millionaire who is preoccupied with his legacy and the stars.
  • Central Theme: Finding out where you belong. The people who are happy are the ones who are comfortable with their role in life, like Gordon and Ben. The unhappy ones, like Mac and Happer, are Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life.
  • Character Development: Mac is a suit-and-tie guy who prefers impersonal communication and isolation ("I'm a Telex man"). As the film goes on, Mac loses the business suit, starts growing a five o'clock shadow, loses his pager, and by the climax is unshaven and wears a sweater, looking like a beachcomber like Ben. Happer doesn't recognize him, thinking Danny is Mac — and one of his final instructions to Mac is to get a shave. Back in his apartment, he's wearing his suit-and-tie again, but no longer feels like a businessman, and actually feels lonely.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The fishermen brag about the high quality lobsters they catch, noting they'll be in the finest restaurants around the world. When asked if they eat lobster too, they chuckle no — it's too expensive.
  • The Con: Knox Industries uses a real estate scam to buy out the town. Subverted in that both Knox and the townspeople are more than happy to do the deal. As Victor states, "You can't eat scenery", while Mac muses the townspeople "can smell the money." Most of the movie is Gordon and Mac haggling over just how much the townspeople are to be paid.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: The trenchcoat itself, coupled with the fact that Danny has been sent to discreetly meet Mac at the airport and has the sign for Knox Industries half-hidden in the coat. He tries to unobtrusively shove the sign into everyone's faces as they disembark from the plane. He comes off looking like a really conspicuous, inept spy... or a flasher.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The film is full of them, but done deliberately, to give it a Fairy Tale feel.
  • Cool Car: Mac carries a picture of his Porsche 930, which he is driving during the opening credits.
  • Covers Always Lie: The US poster text has a whopper. In the end, everyone listed wins. The only character who doesn't get what he wants, McIntyre, isn't mentioned. Also, Burt Lancaster's role is secondary (though crucial to the plot), whereas he is featured most prominently on the US poster.
  • Creator Cameo: Composer Alan Clark is one of the Ace Tones.
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: The odd subplot and interplay between Happer and his psychologist Moritz, who veers into Stalker with a Crush territory.
  • Curse Cut Short: A visual variation: one of Moritz's stunts is to post up HAPPER IS A MOTHERFU in large letters outside Happer's window. Happer closes the curtains before he can finish.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: A rare male example in Danny, though he's not so much clumsy as awkward to the point of cuteness.
  • Deconstruction: Of the typical "big business vs. small town" plot. The townspeople are quite happy to accept Knox Industries' offer to buy them off so they can build a refinery on the site of the village.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Mac adopts a rabbit after Danny hits it with a car. He keeps it in his hotel room — until the manager finds it and makes it into a delicious supper, leaving Mac aghast, in an in-universe invocation of this trope.
    • The Ferness locals are astonished Mac only has one job.
    • In spite of the Cold War, the Ferness locals are friends with a Russian who frequently visits. When someone announces, "The Russians are coming!" it's met with enthusiasm. By comparison, Mac initially reacts to the man's presence with cool distrust.
  • Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life: Happer is desperately lonely and unsatisfied despite his wealth, which Moritz points out. Family and romance evidently isn't the answer for him, since he seeks neither. He focuses on astronomy because he feels it's his immortality.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Mac falls in love with Stella, the wife of Gordon. Although he drunkenly requests that Gordon gives her over to him, he understands that they have no chance and doesn't even bid her farewell when he leaves, presumably because it would be too painful. He pins up a picture of her on his wall.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Felix Happer, CEO of Knox Industries. He's fascinated by astronomy and especially comets as they relate to people's fortunes, and is going through a personal therapy program that involves him being constantly insulted by his therapist.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: Pretty much everyone in Furness.
  • Funny Background Event: The entire population of the town sneaks out of the church behind Mac and Danny. Danny notices and does some hilarious double takes.
  • Genre-Busting: It successfully keeps oscillating between comedy and drama... and then there's Marina's webbed toes.
  • Get Out!: Happer to Moritz. Constantly.
  • Girly Run: Danny. The scene where he and Mac skip stones on the beach reveals that he's just generally a complete spaz.
  • A God Am I: Norman and his rambling about "unfreezing the Arctic Circle" and diverting the Gulf Stream. Not taken too seriously.
  • Going Native: Mac arrives in Ferness as an ultra-modern businessman in a suit and tie. As the film progresses, Mac goes more and more casual and acclimates to the slow, rustic culture of the town. When Happer arrives, he's wearing a sweater and is unshaved. He returns to his home looking very uncomfortable in the city, wearing his original attire.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Knox Industries isn't evil, since Ferness is a perfectly willing partner. However, Marina cannot even imagine Ferness being dug up for an oil refinery. She thinks Knox Industries is going to build a marine laboratory from the start, no matter how much Danny insists that oil is the goal for Knox.
  • Hidden Depths: Everyone in town, even the most seemingly one-dimensional. The punk girl, for instance, admits she's chasing Danny even though he's obviously not right for her because he's someone different from the boys in Ferness. One of the townspeople begins to sob that despite being on the verge of being filthy rich, it hasn't made him feel any different.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Mac and Danny are dismayed to learn they're currently eating the rabbit they'd hoped to nurse back to health.
  • The Leader: Gordon seems to be the town mayor, even though he doesn't list it as one of his jobs. Having a legal degree seems to make him the de facto leader of the town, however.
  • Local Soundtrack: Pop-Star Composer of the film's score, Mark Knopfler was born in Scotland. (He also spent most of his childhood in Newcastle. "Going Home" from the film's soundtrack is pretty much tied with "The Blaydon Races" for the title of Geordie National Anthem.)
  • Loners Are Freaks: Deconstruction. Mac is constantly isolated in the beginning of the film - for example, he communicates with his coworker at the office over the phone, despite being in the same floor divided by a glass pane. However, Mac doesn't see anything wrong with his life - he prefers Telex to face-to-face interaction - but after spending time in Ferness, he realizes his life is quite empty and starved. Unfortunately for him, he returns to that lonely life, with only photos and sea shells left from his trip. He even calls the town after he returns home. Whether he'll at least strive to get more out of life is anyone's guess.
  • Look Both Ways: Every time he leaves a building, Mac is almost run down by a guy on a dirt bike. Keep in mind the town has maybe two streets. Mac becomes aware of this and at one point holds Danny back a few seconds before the dirt bike rides past. According to this documentary, it was not only a Running Gag, but also basically Truth in Television.
  • Magic Realism: Ferness is a classic quirky setting: Full of Eccentric Townsfolk, and a place not far off from a military bombing range yet full of natural beauty from the land to the sea to the sky. Moreover, it seems to attract other unusual people: Marina may well be a case of Our Mermaids Are Different, and Eccentric Millionaire Happer finds a soulmate in Ben the beachcomber, which makes some poetic sense given that Ben Knox may be a direct descendant of the founders of Knox Industries. It could be a Contrived Coincidence, but... (Some critics called the film a "not-quite-a-fairy-tale set in a quaint seaside Scottish village named Ferness.")
  • Meaningful Name: Marina and Stella. Marina is obvious (the sea), but since Danny suggests to Happer a "Sea and Sky Institute", Stella (star) is more meaningful.
  • Mirror Character: Mac, a high-flying oil executive from Houston, and Gordon, a mayor/hotelier/cab driver from Ferness, Scotland. They're both businessmen and at the core want the same thing out of life, the main difference between the two being that Gordon has actually achieved it.
    Mac: I'd make a terrific Gordon, Gordon.
  • Motif: Phones. In the office, everyone is on the phone. Mac keeps talking about he's a "telex man," and calls people in the very next room, whom he can see through the window, rather than just talk to them in person. Mac's proclivity for phone conversations is challenged when he goes to Ferness, which has only a single pay phone. In the end, Mac has returned to Texas but clearly pines to be back in Ferness. The last shot is of the town's pay phone ringing with no one there to answer, presumably Mac trying to reconnect.
  • Omniglot: Danny, who professes a "facility with languages" and provides Mac with a long list, though Gàidhlig isn't one of them. Mac thinks they're all gratuitous and cuts him short at one point when Danny starts to say "no" in every one that comes to mind. When Victor arrives, Mac casually asks Danny if he speaks Russian; he replies, "Yeah, that's one of mine."
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: It's hinted that Marina is actually a mermaid. She has webbed toes on land and she reveals she swims from Wales to Scotland on a regular basis. When she swims, her legs look like a fish's tail. In the end, Danny chases her into the water with good news, an allusion to mermaids luring men into the sea.
  • Overt Operative: Danny wears a Conspicuous Trenchcoat at the airport, making his intentions obvious.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Mark Knopfler is the producer, while Gerry Rafferty did some of the vocals. Knopfler's bandmate Alan Clark, however, is responsible for the moody synth music that provides the score.
  • Scenery Porn: Ferness is green. As Happer says, "I could grow to love this place."
  • Sleek High Rise Apartment: After spending the film in the quaint village of Ferness, Mac returns home and finds his yuppie apartment to be strangely unfamiliar.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Happer's company gets the town into a tizzy about selling the land and getting rich, while Happer himself saves the town on a whim while still paying them for land use rights.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Mac obviously feels out of place when he returns to his modern, Houston apartment.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Mac shares a chocolate bar with Danny when they're stranded in their car overnight.
  • Troll: Ben Knox may be one, judging by the head game he plays with Mac: offering to sell the beach for 1 US dollar for every grain of sand he can hold in his hand. When Mac starts offering buckets of sand, he rescinds his one-time offer. (On top of that, the price could have been $10,000 or lower had Mac just taken the original offer!)
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Mac asks a gang of locals whose baby is with them (the mother is never determined). They just look at each other.


Video Example(s):


The dangers of Ferness traffic

Every time Mac needs to cross the street he has a close call.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / LookBothWays

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