Though its credibility is undermined by a fanciful ending, Mississippi Burning captures much of the truth in its telling of the impact of a 1964 FBI probe into the murders of three civil rights workers.
Story follows the FBI men (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) who’ve been sent down to Jessup, Miss, to investigate the disappearance of three voter activists, one black and two white Jews. The two run into resistance from both the guilty parties and the blacks, who’ve been terrorized into silence. It’s the fearless Dafoe who wears a hole through the wall and Hackman who knows what to do on the other side.
Dafoe gives a disciplined and noteworthy portrayal of Ward, who squelches his emotions as his moral indignation burns. But it’s Hackman who steals the picture as Anderson, a messily sympathetic man who connects keenly but briefly with the people. Glowing performance of Frances McDormand as the deputy’s wife who’s drawn to Hackman is an asset both to his role and the picture.
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Parker pushes the picture along at a fervent clip, with the character scenes back-to-back with chases or violence.
1988: Best Cinematography
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Gene Hackman), Supp. Actress (Frances McDormand), Editing, Sound