Mississippi Burning comes to Blu-ray

Originally nominated for an impressive six Oscars, Mississippi Burning still makes for powerful, striking and occasionally uncomfortable viewing, and remains one of director Alan Parker's best works. It was the perfect opportunity to revisit this riveting film for the new Blu-ray release…

When three civil rights activists go missing deep in Mississippi in 1964, the FBI are called in to investigate. Agents Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Ward (Willem Dafoe) are poles apart in their approach, one methodical and by-the-book, the other more cynical with age and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Facing an uncooperative local police force and a community too afraid to talk, their investigation sparks violent repercussions as they move closer to the truth.

Based on one of the most notorious race-related murder cases in US history, some criticised the film upon first release for fictionalising certain facts in the process of telling a story. It's important to remember that narrative filmmaking is storytelling. But what's admirable here is that the film created a brave, open platform to discuss a very difficult subject matter. Upon release, the film was widely publicised and even made the cover of Time magazine, which placed the subject high on the agenda of news and debate: very unusual by any Hollywood standard.

The movie remains one of my favourite Alan Parker films, alongside the likes of Midnight Express, Angel Heart and The Commitments. As his genre signature, he approaches the subject through simmering, escalating drama and tension, drawing strong performances from his actors. And as a piece of narrative storytelling blended with historic fact, he gets the tone just right.

One element which hits hard every time is the strength of the cast. Hackman and Dafoe absolutely own their roles and make a winning on screen pair, bolstered by sharp, snappy dialogue and some great, quieter scenes. The supporting cast is excellent too with Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Michael Rooker and others delivering captivating performances. Playing to the backdrop of Trevor Jones' haunting score, the entire production is neat, slick and should be appreciated as one of the strongest thrillers of the late 1980's.

The new Blu-ray release offers a rich HD upscale and brings this beautifully shot, cinematic film to life for a new generation of viewers or old time fans who now have a good excuse to revisit it.

Some of the great extras, now a staple of these Second Sight Films re-releases, include interviews with Alan Parker, Willem Dafoe and writer Chris Gerolmo (TV's Over There), as well as an audio commentary from Parker.

My personal highlights from the interviews include Parker's experiences making the film and adapting Gerolmo's original script; trying to strike the balance between incorporating his own research with the thriller he wanted to make. Interestingly, Dafoe wasn't initially drawn to his character upon first reading but saw Agent Ward take shape while filming and collaborating. There are also many stories around the film's mixed reception on first release and the feelings directed towards the filmmakers, very interesting in itself.

Even in a modern context, Mississippi Burning is a hugely important piece of filmmaking and a rare example of a mainstream, Hollywood film carrying the torch for a relevant and meaningful political message. On top of this, it's a tense and tightly woven thriller from a top level filmmaker and cast and absolutely stands the test of time.

Mississippi Burning is available on Blu-ray now from Second Sight Films.