Parker's film, loosely based in fact, goes for the gut rather than the head in its assessment of Deep South racism. When three civil rights activists disappear from a small Mississippi town in 1964, the FBI responds (two of the missing men were white) by sending in agents Dafoe and Hackman, the former a by-the-book Yankee determined never to violate the rights of the interrogated, the latter a local boy who opines that to deal with scum you must sink to gutter level. Scum the villains certainly are: ugly, ignorant rednecks devoted to the Klan, and all too happy to punish blacks who protest against injustice or blab to interfering outsiders. In the film, the blacks are almost without exception seen as mute victims, and typically for a film by an Englishman, race hatred is defined in terms of class and economic envy. But Hackman is excellent, especially in his surprisingly tender scenes with McDormand, wife of sadistic deputy Dourif; and for once, Parker directs without depending on flashy visual tropes. The relative anonymity is a plus; only the end falls foul of hyperbole, and it's arguably the director's most controlled film to date.
Cast and crew
R Lee Ermey