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Mississippi Burning (1988)

I watched a great film at the weekend that I hadn’t seen for a while. I put it on on Friday night after Mrs Screen Room Movie Blog had gone to bed (I’m a bit of a night owl and didn’t think it would be her cup of tea), but I then ended up watching it again on Saturday afternoon after she showed interest due to my high praise of it.

Mississippi Burning (1988)

This is a film I’ve wanted to do a post about for a while. I remember my dad watching it a lot on VHS when I was younger, and now as an adult I can see why.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a hard hitting, historical crime/drama/thriller directed by Alan Parker (Midnight Express, The Commitments).

It stars Gene Hackman (Unforgiven), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man: No Way Home), Frances McDormand (Fargo), Brad Dourif (Child’s Play), R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day) and Darius McCrary (Transformers) among many others.

It’s loosely based on the 1964 murder investigation of three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) in Mississippi (Google “Freedom summer murders”).

This is what it’s about:

When three civil rights workers go missing in a small Mississippi town, FBI agents Alan Ward (Dafoe) and Rupert Anderson (Hackman) are sent to investigate. Local authorities refuse to cooperate with them, and the African American community is afraid to. As the situation becomes more volatile, the direct approach is abandoned in favour of more aggressive, hard-line tactics.

This is a great movie!

It’s such a compelling story, it’s crazy and shocking to think that it’s based on actual events.

A lot of the drama surrounding the two main characters (played by Hackman and Dafoe) is no doubt fictional, as are certain other elements of the story, but the general details of the case and the racists nature of it are all true.

The movie grabs you right from the start. After a short opening credits scene showing a blazing inferno engulfing a wooden church to the haunting sound of Mahalia Jackson singing, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (the song she sang at Martin Luther King Jr.‘s funeral), it doesn’t waste any time getting to the point.

Each of the characters are introduced brilliantly and the performances are superb from everyone involved, especially Gene Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif and Michael Rooker.

The film also does a really good job of making the time period seem authentic. You genuinely believe it’s the 60s and not the late 80s when the film was made.

This was actually the first thing I ever saw Willem Dafoe in. He was only 33 at the time and plays quite a straight laced character compared to some of the characters he’d go on to play and be remembered for.

Gene Hackman plays an older, more seasoned character with a not so “by the book” approach. The difference in the two agent’s strategies makes for some tension-filled scenes that makes things even more satisfying when they decide to get on the same side and go after the perpetrators by any means necessary.

As good as everyone is in this movie, one actor that stands out for me is the young Darius McCrary who was only 12 years old at the time. Despite currently having over 60 acting credits to his name I don’t remember seeing him in anything else after this - although he does voice Jazz in Transformers (2007).

This is one of those films I’d encourage everyone to watch.

It’s hard to watch at times due to the racism element but it really makes you appreciate the terrible divide between the white and black communities at the time.

As with a lot of these kinds of films it was criticised for making the white men the heroes of the story. Green Book (2018) is another excellent film centred around racial issues that was criticised for this.

Everyone will see these films differently, especially depending on your background, but as a film fan I love it.

If you like a gritty crime thriller with a gripping story and brilliant performances, I highly recommend checking this one out.

Seen it? Let me know your thoughts.

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