Loosely based on the FBI investigation into the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964 Mississippi, Mississippi Burning was criticized by some for diverging from the historical facts of the case, but director Alan Parker was quick to point out that the film was a dramatization, not a documentary. With that said, Mississippi Burning remains a captivating watch nearly thirty years after its initial release, and features one of the best performances of Gene Hackman’s illustrious career.
After three civil rights workers go missing in Jessup County Mississippi, the FBI sends two agents, Rupert Anderson (Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) to investigate. Anderson, a fellow southerner, knows the murders and their protectors won’t be intimidated through by-the-book tactics. However, the younger Ward, a northerner, and a slave to the rules, ignores the older man’s advice. In doing so, Ward inadvertently endangers the lives of black citizens in his attempts to question them. While the increasingly frustrated Ward calls for additional reinforcements, Anderson finds a potential source of information by sweet-talking the local beauty shop owner (Frances McDormand), and wife of Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif), secretly a Klansman.
In an understated, yet complex performance, McDormand’s character acts as the film’s moral compass, even its hero, as she overcomes a lifetime of racist teachings, and attitudes to do the right thing, given some kindness from Anderson.
In playing Anderson, Gene Hackman channels one of his most famous roles, The French Connection’s Popeye Doyle. Like Popeye, he understands you sometimes have to skirt the law to enforce the law. Eventually, Ward agrees to go along with his tactics, but he warns, “Don’t drag me down to your gutter, Anderson.” Hackman’s response is pointed, “These people crawled out of the sewers, Mr. Ward. Maybe the gutter is the place we have to be.”
When the film was released theatrically back in 1988, there were complaints that Mississippi Burning was told completely from the white man’s perspective. Watching it now, it still impossible to disagree with that assessment. The black characters are subjected to horrific abuse, and appear passive as they wait for something to happen. However, the saving grace here is Gene Hackman’s humanity. A sly southern gentleman, mixed with old boy smarm, he’s simply fascinating to watch. Dafoe takes a backseat much of the time, but manages moments of eloquence. “Where does it come from, all this hatred?” his character wonders, right along with the rest of us.
Would it have been nice to have the black characters more fully developed? Certianly. But nonetheless, director Alan Parker has still created a memorable thriller anchored by excellent performances.
In addition to Hackman for Best Actor, other Oscar nominations included Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (McDormand)— it’s only win was for Best Cinematography (Peter Biziou).
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Twilight Time has provided yet another solid transfer. grain is noticeable. Details are impressive, as close-ups of facial features, hair, and clothing look excellent, and skin tones appear natural.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is a strong one, allowing for clear, concise dialogue throughout. Sound effects such as the crackle of fire, the crashing of windows, etc. sound clear. Trevor Jones’ occasionally haunting score sounds fresh.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director Alan Parker: Parker discusses the historical events behind the film, the artistic liberties taken, the filming process, the script, and more.
- Isolated Score Track: Trevor Jones’ track offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:30)
- Six-Page Booklet: A nice selection of color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s knowledgeable analysis of the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
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