Feisty British director Alan Parker takes on the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi Burning as two white FBI agents head up a government probe into the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.
FBI agents Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Ward (Willem Dafoe) arrive in the small town of Jessup to investigate the disappearance. Enraged by the increasingly hostile behaviour of the local KKK, Ward drafts in more and more agents and starts a war.
The film’s concentration on the efforts of the two agents – tight-lipped play-it-by-the-book Ward and more instinctive Southern lawman Anderson (he used to be a Mississippi sheriff) – and the marginalisation of blacks in the story, brought accusations of racism which Parker strongly denied.
This was Hackman’s first major role for several years and he dominates all before him, whether beating up bigoted Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif) in a barber’s shop, making jokes with Willem Dafoe’s uptight fellow agent or gently flirting with Frances McDormand’s terrified Klan widow.
Loosely based on a true story and shot with great visual flair (Peter Biziou won the Oscar for best cinematography), this is a gripping evocation of the early days of the civil rights movement.
Agent Rupert Anderson
Agent Alan Ward
R Lee Ermey
Pruitt Taylor Vince