Gripping look at 1960s race relations
Christopher Moyer | Philadelphia, PA | 05/02/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mississippi Burning captures the American South of the 1960s and its turbulent race relations by telling a story that, while technically fictional, is inspired by actual events that took place. It succeeds by all at once being gripping, emotional, and contemplative. Despite being made in 1988 and taking place in 1964, the film holds up to this day quite well.
The story begins with the murder of three young civil rights activists--two of them white and one of them black--in a small town in Mississippi. Two FBI agents are soon assigned to this as a missing persons case; these are, as they formally refer one another, Mr. Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Mr. Ward (Willem Dafoe). Ward is the younger of the two, and also the agent in charge of the case. The local law enforcement and the town in general is hesitant to accept these big shots from up north, and their views don't much change when Ward decides they need a lot more men, and that this is more than just a simple missing persons case.
The Ku Klux Klan factors prominently into the case, but Anderson and Ward don't have much means for proving that they had any involvement, let alone which members, if any, contributed to the crime. It doesn't help much that nobody in town seems to want to help out--white or black. The FBI men are a little surprised to see such segregation and bigotry still taking place, but trying to explain it to some of the people in town is like trying to sell a newspaper to a dog. Ward's by-the-book style of gathering information isn't exactly producing the results he had hoped, and as a last resort, he decides to allow Anderson to use his more unconventional ways to get some answers out of some suspects.
The film is filled with a veritable who's who of That Guys, actors whose faces you recognize, but whose names you don't always know: R. Lee Ermey, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Dourif, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Rooker, and Kevin Dunn. All of these men deliver consistently solid supporting work, as does the always-perfect Frances McDormand as the benevolent wife of a Klansman deputy.
Mississippi Burning, while a compelling thriller, drives for something deeper-seeded than a whodunit mystery. In fact, it pretty much gives away the mystery in the first scene. Instead, we get a study on race relations, and director Alan Parker explores the motivations and mentality of white people who persecute others based solely on the color of their skin. For some reason, these people have it burned into their minds that color of skin dictates social rank and intelligence, when nothing could be further from the truth. It would be nice to say that this sort of thinking has been abolished in our country, but that's still not the case. It has died down considerably, but it is not completely gone, and that's a real shame."
FBI romanticized ...but still great
Anton Batey | Detroit, MI USA | 02/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great movie on the grounds that Jim Crow Mississippi was a fascist state, where Blacks were subjected to second-class "citizenship" (or, as Malcolm X rightfully called "20th Century Slaves"). THAT historical viewpoint was correct. However, like nearly all Hollywood films depicting historical events (Like Nixon, JFK, Malcolm X, etc), the writers and directors can't help but to add Hollywood in the films. The way Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman died was way off. They weren't simply shot (as if THAT'S not bad enough), the three kids were dragged out the car, and beat with chains, pistol whipped, and the scum who carried out the murder made them beg for their lives...then shot them. This movie totally romanticized the role the FBI played in their forced "fight" against the Klan. When the FBI witnessed crimes, and police brutality, all they did was take notes, and did nothing else. Also, the Black people were so impersonal. Though the movie revolved around their treatment, they just stood in the background as impersonal objects. Don't get me wrong now; I think EVERYONE should see this movie. Just know that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were not at all protected by the FBI, and that it took a mass movement for the government to finally cave in (or there REALLY would have been trouble in the streets) and pass a so-called "Civil Rights Bill" that took only 100 years to sign. The actors in the movie were excellent. Hackman was great. Dafoe was great. It made you mad, sad and happy. Definitely see the movie. Just don't take it as a historical reference. Watch Murder in Mississippi to find out the lives of the three, and what they did. Also, read Three Lives for Mississippi.
One last thing, I hope that SOB Edgar Ray Killen faces a death squad. In case you don't know, Killen was the one who orchestrated the murder of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, and was conviced exactly 41 years after the act committed on June 21st, 1964.
A great movie. My favorite film for use of character actors.
Benito Vasquez | Naperville, Il | 08/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a powerful movie. Movies of this genre are bound to receive various political perspectives. But that doesn't lessen the impact of this movie. In many ways you feel Mississippi during the era involved. Not just in the politics and bigotry, but in the countryside presented itself. There are some subtle allusions that assist in creating a feel for the town this movie takes place in. Gene Hackman and William DaFoe are fabulous in their lead roles, as is Frances McDormand. But to me, the real reason to watch this movie is the incomparable collection of character actors, my favorite movie in that category. it's a treasure trove. You can debate the angle of many of the most popular civil rights movies, their message, be it explicit or implied. But the performances by this ensemble cast and the backdrop of Mississippi make this one of the most watchable movies of the genre. From R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sgt. in "Full Metal Jacket") and Stephen Tobolowski (Needle Nose Ned in "Groundhog Day") - 2 of the most renowned character actors playing the mayor and Clayton Townley, head of the Klan, respectively- to Brad Dourif, Michael Rooker, Gailard Sartain, Pruitt Taylor Vince- all playing loathsome bigots. Tobin Bell will be a familiar face as well in his small role as an FBI agent in the latter part of the film. Even James F. Moore who plays a simple barber with a pittance for dialogue is essential to the feel of this moving film. It's the character actors who steal this show. it's an outstanding film with crystal clear DVD remastering in sound and quality, There are several memorable scenes integral to the story (Hackman's encounter with Frank Bailey at "the club") and naturally the scenes that accompany such a film that stir the audience into righteous outrage. For the purposes of this movie, everything and everybody clicks. There are some gripping behind the scene stories as to the extent actors like the great Stephen Tobolowski went to dig into their roles, making their performances all the more effective and proven on the final print. When I started buying DVDs, this was on the top of my list. It's a steal at the often found bargain price."
A film to savour
S J Buck | Kent, UK | 08/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this film at a cinema in south London when it first came out. It was a hot day, the cinema had no air conditioning, and it was like the deep south. I don't know how many times I've seen the film since, but I've rented it, bought the video, bought the DVD and watched it on television - so a hell of lot.
Despite these repeated viewings it never loses its power and that comes from two things. Firstly its subject matter and secondly from a powerhouse performance by Gene Hackman. Willam Dafoe, Frances McDormand and the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent - Hackman is better.
Loosely based on a true event in the 60's, it concerns the dissappearance of two human rights activists. The opening to the film is one of the most tense and memorable scences(and Hackman isn't even in it). Dafoe and Hackman do a variation on the good cop, bad cop routine with bad cop tactics being the final strategy!
Its a great film, which if you haven't seen, you should do so now.