Local Hero seems simple enough on the surface. Made in 1983, it tells the story of a company representative sent by a Texas oil magnate to a remote Scottish coastal town to purchase it for refinery development. Most locals smell the money and are all too willing to sell. However, there is an eccentric holdout. Typical David vs. Goliath story with the majority of the movie focusing on escalating attempts to convince the eccentric to sell, right? Right, except for two things. First, the holdout isn’t identified until two-thirds of the movie (or more) is over. And second, the movie is filled with odd novelties having nothing whatsoever to do with the essential storyline. What sorts of novelties? How about a passive-aggressive therapist whose sole method of treatment consists of delivering verbal abuse? Or a marine biologist with webbed feet? Or a Soviet fishing-boat captain who sings songs about “the lone star state.” Or an unidentified motorcyclist who traverses the narrow streets of the village at high speed, fully expecting the villagers to get out of the way, or a whole gaggle of villagers who do. If those things sound weird, it’s because they are. Yet they’re woven into the story line so indistinctly and presented so matter of factly that, instead of feeling weird, they give the film a magical realist vibe. Even the ending isn’t what’s expected. If this movie were made today, the protagonist, who comes to love the village and the people in it, would of course choose to stay there, but in this movie, that too turns out differently.
Local Hero has a 100% critic rating and an 88% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m surprised it’s that high. For one thing, most of the critic reviews do little more than provide generic praise, calling it “charming” or “whimsical” without going very far toward explaining exactly how so, and for another the first half of the film downright drags as there just isn’t an adequate source of tension. Still, it gets better toward the end and has a few surprises up its sleeve. It’s worth a watch for that and for those who appreciate quaint portraits of small-town coastal village life. In Scotland.