Two F.B.I. Agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.Two F.B.I. Agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.Two F.B.I. Agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.
Director Alan Parker has been down this road before with Midnight Express, another crushing, gut-wrenching tale based on a true story. In both cases, a great deal of liberty is taken with the facts, but that doesn't matter. Mississippi Burning is not a docudrama or an A & E special, it is at its heart, a police drama, and a near perfect one at that.
It is criticized by some for its depiction of southerners of the time as a group of brain-dead racists with no moral fiber whatsoever. I don't believe that is the movie's intention, but it spends time showing this side of society to make us understand how hate breeds itself, and how it becomes a way of life and an accepted standard. As one character states, "When we were seven years old, they told us that segregation was in the bible. You hear that long enough, you start to believe it".
Mississippi Burning won a (well-deserved) Oscar for cinematography, but sat and watched Rain Main take home the majors. It was clearly the best film of 1988 and stands as one of the great works of American cinema of the 80's. Hackman and Dafoe are at their best, and Frances McDormand delivers a beautifully understated, powerful performance as the deputy's wife - a woman at war with her sense of right and wrong, struggling with fear and loyalty. Her character is the centerpiece of the movie.
This is not a preachy or melodramatic movie. You won't get a lecture on why racism is wrong. You will get an rich, engaging crime drama depicting a pivotal time in American History, and you will never forget it.
**** out of ****.
- Jun 19, 1999