Rates: * * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? I was randomly scrolling through my film archive and saw this and it felt right.
Mac is a mid level deal maker for Knox Industries, a mega corporation based out of Houston, Texas. The head of the company, Mr Happer, has an important mission for him; he has to go to remote northern Scotland and negotiate the purchase of an entire village from the inhabitants, so the company can build an oil refinery. On location, far from home, Mac will fall under the spell of the scenery and sky, and rethink his priorities.
If that sounds like a movie you have seen before, you probably have; the fish-out-of-water, city-slicker-charmed-by-rural-eccentrics, rat-race-sucks story is probably one of the most revisited in cinema. But writer-director Bill Forsyth has some moves that distinguish this from other films of its type.
In a different movie Mac, played with quiet empathy by Peter Riegert, would be a jerk who is softened by his time in the countryside. But here, he is actually a really nice guy; the jerk is his regional counterpart Gavin Urquhart, an accountant who handles the business negotiation for the village. Urquhart has long since gotten over the delights of where he lives and is overjoyed to be selling up. He is also cold blooded enough that he turns an injured rabbit Mac rescued into a stew, and serves it up to him without saying anything.
While this character is not exactly a villain, he is much less likable than Mac, and their unusual relationship is the heart of the movie. Drunk one night, Mac suggests to Urquhart that they swap lives, which both agree would probably be for the best (Mac also has a crush on Urquhart’s wife, a subplot that is handled with the lightest of touch).
Forsyth’s films became known for their celebration of deadpan oddballs, and there is plenty of that as well. I especially enjoyed the trail biker who always nearly runs Mac over, the marine biologist cum mermaid, the ‘Acetones’: a band with three accordian players, the bloke who is always fixing the roof (despite their being nothing seemingly wrong with it), and the local who becomes obsessed with Mac’s use of the phone booth, and has it repainted for him.
You can feel the gentle thrum of village life, far from anywhere, and as Mac swaps his suits for casual clothes and starts collecting shells, it feels entirely real that he would want to stay here. You do too. The film was shot on location in Northern Scotland and some of the scenery is gasp inducingly spectacular.
And then Mr Happer shows up. Beautifully played by screen legend Burt Lancaster, this corporate titan is a man not immune to unusual behaviour himself; there is a hilarious running gag involving a psychologist he has hired to insult him, to keep his ego in check. Having come to seal the refinery deal, Happer experiences what Mac has on fast forward; swept off his feet by a local deadpan oddball who lives on the beach, he decides instead to build a scientific institute. It’s kindof a happy ending, although Mac has return to Houston, a place which no longer feels like home.
A gentle, low key charmer, populated with unusual characters that never succumb to stereotype. A winner all round, topped by Mark Knoffler’s iconic theme music; the full title track playing over the final frames of the movie, and end credits, KILLS.