Mississippi Burning (1988)

mississippi

Starring: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey

Director: Alan Parker

Summary: FBI agents investigate the murders of civil rights workers in 1964 Mississippi

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Hackman), Supporting Actress (McDormand), Film Editing, Sound, Cinematography*

This is a very white-centric civil rights movie-I can’t name a single definable character trait or even the name of a black character in the movie. To a degree, it loses sight of whose rights, freedoms and safety were at stake since none of the oppressed have a voice in the movie and everything is about the white FBI agents coming in and solving their problems. The other big issue is that the movie is almost nothing but bombast: the movie is a relentless stream of houses and churches being burnt down, people being beaten, lynched and/or killed, big dramatic marches and courtroom scenes. The score really doesn’t help here, as it’s constantly pounding and dramatic. As a result, we have scenes that would be centerpieces in a more restrained film instead not standing out at all.

For the positives, I will say that as a by-product of all that bombast, it wasn’t boring and reasonably held my interest throughout. Also, I liked Hackman a lot-he’s charismatic and reminds me of Popeye Doyle with his some of his roughest edges sanded down and not as dark a heart. This was also a breakout performance for McDormand, who exudes a quiet dignity throughout as one of the few decent people in the town who is willing to put something on the line because it’s the right thing to do. This is hard to rate, as I put a lot of value in not being bored, but it’s problems are too substantial to overlook and it’s insights on racial hatred are purely surface level.

Rating: C-

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