(Review originally written at 11 July 2009)
Even though "Mississippi Burning" is far from a failure, the movie still give me the feeling as if it could had been much better and far more effective with its subject, had it picked a bit of a different approach at times.
"Mississippi Burning" is a pure film-makers movie, that relies heavily on the skills of its cast & crew. Due to this however the movie looses its focus at times, when its story starts to more rely on some biased stereotypes and clichés, which makes the story at times rather unlikely, instead of powerful and effective. Perhaps the story should had put more its emphasis on its two main characters, played by Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman and their relationship as FBI-partners, who both have different ideas and styles of approaches.
The whole racial theme serves as the basis for the movie its story. It's however not really a story that grabs me and draws me into it, even though the subject itself is to me always interesting and potentially gripping and extremely powerful. "A Time to Kill" is for instance a movie who tackled this subject much better, in my opinion.
It's not like the cast & crew didn't gave their very best though. Alan Paker provided the movie with his experienced directing abilities, though its a bit uneven at times with its themes and approaches, like often is the case with most of his movies. He doesn't always seem to be able to put its emphasis on one main thing.
The movie knows to capture the right atmosphere for a movie with such a theme like this one has. It means that the movie has some effective cinematography and picked some good settings.
The movie has a bit of a surprising cast, with for instance Willem Dafoe in a quite big role opposite Gene Hackman. Perhaps Dafoe gives away one of his best performances in this movie and he allowed himself to go through a metamorphose, physically and acting-wise. Giving Gene Hackman a cop-role is always a good idea. It always sort of reminds you of his "The French Connection" performance. The movie also stars a well cast R. Lee Ermey, who had just won an Oscar for his "Full Metal Jacket" role and Michael Rooker. It also stars some good actors, who were still quite unknown at the time of this movie, such as Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Tobin Bell.
It's a good and well made movie that could had been a more powerful one if it had put its emphasis at different things at times. The movie now sometimes looses its focus, not making this the movie that it potentially could had become.