Mississippi Burning (1988)
Directed by Alan Parker
Starring: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand
For his work on Mississippi Burning, Alan Parker would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The nomination was one of the seven that it would receive in 1988. Prior to 1988 Parker was best known for his work on Fame and Midnight Express. Cinematographer Peter Bizou would win an Oscar for Best Cinematography for this movie. Bizou has since worked on films like In the Name of the Father andThe Truman Show.
Mississippi Burning stars Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, and Frances McDormand. Hackman has had a long and successful career that has included films like Bonnie and Clyde and Hoosiers. He has two Oscar wins for acting in Unforgiven and The French Connection. Willem Dafoe has also been successful with two Oscar nominations. He has been in hit films like Platoon and The Boondock Saints. Frances McDormand is one more great actor in this movie. Her wonderful role in Fargo won her an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress. She’s also been in a number of other films including Burn After Reading and City By the Sea.
A FBI manhunt begins when three young civil rights workers go missing in Jessup County in 1964. Some of the first agents on the scene are Anderson (Hackman) and Ward (Dafoe). The two men are different in every way, Ward being a by-the-book agent from the North and Anderson being at home in the South as a former resident of Mississippi. As the two men begin their investigation they run into opposition by the local officials as well as the people on both sides of the color barrier. Despite being married to one of the local deputies, Mrs. Pell (McDormand) does her best to steer them in the right direction. As the trail gets hot they’re up against a powerful enemy in their search for the truth.
This is not a true story. One of the major criticisms of this movie is that it blurred the line between fact and fiction by making the film loosely based on the murder of some civil rights workers in Mississippi. Despite being a work of fiction the film does seek to show the inequality of the people living in the segregated South.
The movie itself is an interesting one. The acting is great and the story line is well-written. All three of the stars do wonderfully in their performances and they’re boosted by a great cast of characters throughout the movie. The film is also visually good, with every scene feeling very authentic. The music also compliments the dark and often intense action in the film.
Any criticism for the film comes with the portrayal of the FBI. The movie tends to make them look like a bunch of heroes who rode into town to save the day. This is a stretch in the film and the opposite of the reality of the civil rights movement. This might not make history buffs happy, but it doesn’t take away from the drama of the story.
I wouldn’t suggest this for younger audiences, but it’s a great movie. I give this one 4.2 out of 5 stars.