Mississippi Burning [1988]

Under the slick, professional direction of Alan Parker, Mississippi Burning is the kind of film that will either draw you into its emotionally volatile sphere of influence or outrage you with its repugnant, manipulative revision of American civil rights history. The fact-based story brings two highly different FBI agents (Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe) to Mississippi to investigate the murders of three young black men who had been promoting black voter registration. The key to solving the murders is the testimony of a local deputy's wife (Frances McDormand) who is struggling to break free of her husband's racist influence. As critic Pauline Kael argued, "...the movie hinges on the ploy that the FBI men can't stop the Ku Klux Klan from its terrorism against blacks until they swing over to vigilante tactics. And we're put in the position of applauding the FBI's dirtiest forms of intimidation. This cheap gimmick undercuts the whole civil rights subject; it validates the terrorist methods of the Klan." Or you can take the view of Roger Ebert, who named Mississippi Burning "the best film of 1988"; it would earn seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Hackman), Supporting Actress (McDormand), and Director. Which reaction is most appropriate? Both are, depending on your particular point of view. At the very least the performances are dynamic, but there's more to this provocative film than fine acting. We suggest you check it out and form your own opinion. --Jeff Shannon

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