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Mississippi Burning (1988)

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

“What has four eyes but can’t see? Mississippi!” – Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman)

It is really this joke that becomes the reality of the situation of Mississippi Burning. It tells the story of two FBI men, Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) who are brought to 1964 Mississippi to investigate the 3 young men who went missing (even though we know they are killed right at the beginning of the film).

The more I watched this film, the more I realized I have been missing out on great American Cinema. I was sitting there, thinking “What type of idiot would be so racist that they would even bad mouth the FBI?” As soon as that happened, the house the two FBI men are in is attacked, and we see the flaming cross of the KKK outside their window.

This movie made me realize how much I miss Gene Hackman (who, as of this review, has retired from acting and has not been in a movie in over ten years). He can be sweet, charming, affectionate, as we see with the scenes he plays in with a young Frances McDormand. However, we all know how he was in The French Connection, and he gets tough “SOB” moments in this film as well. Seldom are the number of actors who have that range.

Willem Dafoe, always brilliant, is wonderful here too as Ward. We know right away that he wants to do the investigation the right way, with as little violence as possible. We also get the sense he is someone we would still not want to mess with.

Parents, the movie has a lot of swearing and violence, but that is about it. I would say 13 and above would be fine. They may even find it to be something rare in films: Enjoyable and educational.

Overall: Four Stars ****

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