The 50 Greatest Dramas: #50: Mississippi Burning (1988)

Hard-hitting - if somewhat simplistic - tale of hideous racism in America’s Deep South. Stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as FBI investigators

This powerful movie represents Alan Parker’s best work and remains pertinent, although the events it borrows from occurred in 1964.

Two FBI investigators, the bright, by-the-book Yankee Ward (Dafoe) and the older, calmer Southern boy Anderson (Hackman), visit a small Mississippi town after the disappearance of three civil rights workers (two of whom were white). Their clash over working methods provides the subplot as they reveal the extent of the racism and brutality simmering in the town - especially from the wife-beating, black-baiting law enforcers (headed up by Brad Dourif).

No recent film has generated such convincing Southern atmosphere. It’s like a fly-on-the-wall observation wrapped inside a handsomely mounted thriller, and ensures that the message, told in potent but arguably simplistic terms, reaches a wide audience.

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