Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mississippi Burning - Burning Bright

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"My old man was just so full of hate that he didn't know that bein' poor was what was killin' him." - Rupert Anderson

Behind every nation's glorious present and promising future, there lies a history of violence,  a past brushed under the carpet which no one wants to talk about, a violence bred by ignorance and fueled by hatred, a history long forgotten. But occasionally a nation needs to look back into the past and realize where it had come from, for history is a great teacher. Alan Parker's "Mississippi Burning" takes us back to a time where America was divided over color. It takes us to a small town where color was the only reason to wreak havoc. It teaches us how ignorance coupled with hatred could burn a place into ashes. It takes place in the year 1964 in the Jessup County of Mississippi, just another sleepy little Southern county with farmers and religious people. Back then it was just another White dominated county that still believed in dividing its water coolers for the whites and the colored. It finds itself in the news for the disappearance of three civil right workers who had come to town to enlighten the colored folks of their right to vote. A shocking opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and scene by scene the same intensity is maintained.

Jessup county prides itself on its age old belief of White supremacy and oppression of the colored. Their belief is put to test when two FBI agents Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) enter the small town to investigate the disappearance. Polar opposites to each other from their style of working to their style of thinking, Anderson is a veteran having served as a sheriff in a small town like this before, street-smart, shrewd and with a story for every occasion, he is a tough cookie who does not follow the rules. He is someone who believes in breaking the ice with a casual conversation before questioning about the who, where, when and why. Alan Ward is a young, "by-the-book" kind of officer who to quote himself "shaves everyday", is suited up impeccably and uses his power to complete effect, be it in summoning a hundred agents or questioning the locals by stamping his authority. With two different schools of thoughts working on a case, there is a friction developing between the two agents which slowly but surely starts to heat up. 

The locals of the town show their displeasure of the two agents who seem to be disrupting the values and beliefs by their aggressive investigation. There is a simmering tension between the two government bodies, the local police who are believed to be misusing their power in carrying out the dirty deeds and the FBI who want to get to the bottom of this case. With the arrogant Sheriff and his men consisting of both cops and the local heavyweights who terrorize anyone that cooperates with the Feds things become all the more difficult for Wade and Anderson.

It always gives us goosebumps to watch great actors immerse themselves in their roles, as Rupert Anderson, Gene Hackman goes on to give a sterling performance, a tour de force where he leaves us stunned with his brilliant portrayal. He starts out as the wisecracking federal agent who follows orders to the distinguished Ward, and as the movie progresses he shifts gears into a domineering ruthless fed who plays the game by his own rules as Ward helplessly plays second fiddle to Anderson. This is one of Hackman's finest performances on screen which makes us wonder why he never won an Oscar for this. Gifted with great dialogues and a wonderfully etched out Anderson, Hackman makes the most of it. It is still a point to ponder over why Hackman's name is not taken in the same breath as Pacino, Deniro, Nicholson or a Brando.

The movie never loses its focus even as the gentle chemistry between Mrs. Pell (Frances McDormand) and Anderson is etched out with a lot of maturity, never threatening to steal focus from the main issue. Dafoe and McDormand give neat performances. With murders and riots shot with realistic and disturbing detail, Alan Parker has made a film that drives home the tough years of racism that America had been through in the 60's, a sore point in the nation's history. Willem Dafoe and Frances McDormand play their roles with finesse. Alan Parker's adeptness sees the movie gently shift focus from Ward to Anderson as Willem Dafoe dictates the terms in the first half as in charge of the investigation, and later submits to Anderson's street smartness in handling issues. With great writing that wonderfully etch out the characters, and with hard hitting scenes that even strike a chord to this day, "Mississippi Burning" even after having released more than two decades ago still manages to keep the intensity aflame.

126 comments:

Matangi Mawley said...

I have seen it burn once, before.
Enjoyed seeing it again, through your eyes...

Brilliant write-up!

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Anuraag said...

@ Matangi,

Hey thanks! glad to know u have watched it too :-)

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