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Mississippi Burning - Blu-ray Review

Mississippi Burning

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

TWENTY seven years after Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning was first released in cinemas, the film now receives its Blu-ray premiere in the UK and remains as powerful and relevant as ever.

An all-names-changed dramatization of the Ku Klux Klan’s murders of three civil rights workers in 1964, the film features standout performances from Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as the two FBI agents who must fight both fervent racism and fear to get to the truth of what happened and prosecute those responsible.

Hackman plays Anderson, the older, wiser member of the team, a former Southerner himself who understands but never condones the actions of the community he finds himself in, instead using his knowledge to cajole the truth out of some of its more discerning citizens.

But Dafoe is his equal as the straight-laced bureau man, whose by-the-book approach eventually gives way to a growing realisation that other, more dubious tactics, may provide the only way forward.

There’s notable support, too, from the likes of Brad Dourif, as a grinning, KKK affiliated deputy; Frances McDormand, as his conflicted wife, and Pruitt Taylor Vince, as another KKK member who is prone to being manipulated. Indeed, Hackman and McDormand were both Oscar nominated, as was the film itself and Parker (as best director).

But it’s the relevance of the themes, as much as the power of the performances, that continues to resonate. For while the 60s may seem like a distant era, many of the tensions on display here continue to bubble away in the US (and beyond), especially in light of several of the more recent high-profile shootings by American officials.

While the notion of hatred and how it is instilled is just as timely, not just within the context of racism but also with religion (which is used as a tool here too). As such, the struggle to win back hearts and minds is as applicable to the ongoing war on terror as it is to the continued battle to find tolerance within the darkest places. There are no easy answers and when Dafoe’s idealist reacts strongly against using gutter tactics to make headway, it’s Hackman’s response that feels particularly appropriate.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that the final five minutes of the film feel a little too Hollywood in wrapping things up neatly, and therefore almost preachy. But given the strength of what has come before – and the joy of revisiting another of Hackman’s mightiest performances – Mississippi Burning remains a classic of timeless relevance.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 125mins
UK Blu-ray Release: September 14, 2015