According to my massive spreadsheet that helps me keep track of what films I’ve watched from what year and when to post them, 1988 was supposed to be a few weeks ago. It seems that in the month or so I had Mississippi Burning in my Netflix cue, their copy disappeared before I could view it. This movie is only twenty-two years old, it couldn’t be that hard to find a copy and I didn’t want to look like a lazy bum because some ass-hat destroyed, lost or decided to keep the Netflix copy. So with a little rearranging and internet shopping, I was able to avert 1988 until my very own copy of Mississippi Burning arrived. Now that I’ve got some frustrations out, I can review.
In Jessup County Mississippi no one in the black community is registered to vote due to the strong presence of the KKK. When three civil rights activists go missing FBI agents Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) are sent to investigate. They discover foul play and hatred that runs through the entire small town.
Gene Hackman was nominated for best actor in his role as Agent Anderson. With roots in Mississippi, Anderson knows how people in small towns think. He saunters around the square, into barber shops and beauty salons trying to identify with the locals with his roots and charm. He needs to get the clan members to slip up and talk. It works on some, others don’t trust outsiders. Once you’ve left Mississippi, you ain’t from Mississippi. Hackman skillfully displays old charm, kindness and balls crushing ruthlessness.
Dafoe’s character, Ward, is in command of the investigation, but plays second fiddle to Anderson. His solution for everything is to get more men. In no time, he’s turned a two man job into a hundred agents running around town in suits and a hundred soldiers combing a swamp for bodies. Ward’s a college city boy from up north and believes in everything by the book and isn’t used to ignorant rednecks.
That’s exactly what the average citizen of Jessup County is portrayed as. After reporters flock into town to keep up with the breaking story, they interview several locals and for many, their answers are shocking. Of course, only members of the white community are interviewed.
The black community is much different. What hasn’t been burned to the ground are just rickety shacks along dirt roads out in the woods. Nearly every night, another church or residence is caught on fire by Klan members. In one scene, they wait outside one of the few churches left, wearing white sacks over their heads. As members leave, the Klan boys run them down, beating them with sticks cursing and kicking them. Amongst all the chaos, a boy who was a target for the terror just stands still and prays.
A little fun fact: during the “political rally” scene, many of the extras were members of the KKK. How do we know? They used their membership cards as ID! Sorry, that was just too mind-boggling for me, but hey, it’s Mississippi.
Mississippi Burning is rated R with lots of violence, profanity and racial slurs. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can handle all that, I recommend this. Hackman and Dafoe are always a treat to watch and the story is one that shouldn’t be forgotten. I’m proud to add this to my dvd collection, but quit stealing dvds from Netflix.
“At school, they said segregation what’s said in the Bible… Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it. You believe the hatred. You live it… you breathe it. You marry it.”