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Mississippi Burning (1988)

Updated on July 8, 2020

Mississippi Burning (1988) review

This is a dark, gritty crime film that was intense and riveting. The content of the film was very realistic. I felt like it was a little slow at times but managed to keep my interest. The casting choices were perfect and the set design was immaculate. I enjoy films about our nation's history. Even if they paint a picture that isn't pretty, reality rarely is. It's sad to know that there was a time when communities were built on beliefs filled with hate and bigotry. Kids are born into it and spoon fed lies at an early age until it's all they know. The saddest part is this way of thinking still exists today. Evil, corrupt people will always be a fixture in mainstream society.

Mississippi Burning (1988) was based on a true story and written by Chris Gerolmo. It was directed by Alan Parker and stars Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman. In 1964, two FBI agents were investigating the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Jessup County, Mississippi. What they find is a hotbed of hate and bigotry in a town where the Klu Klux Klan has control. The police force is useless because they are all clan members. It's an entire town of brainwashed, disgruntled and ignorant racists against two FBI agents. In order to get justice, they will have to go to war.

Willem Dafoe is a brilliant actor and gave an outstanding performance, but I felt that Gene Hackman stood out a little more. I am not normally a Gene Hackman fan, but his performance was phenomenal. He played the ‘bad cop’ to Dafoe’s by the book ‘good cop’ and he played it well, having to convince Dafoe that the only way they would get answers is by showing a little force. Some of the more graphic scenes in this film were hard to watch. The filmmakers obviously felt that a level of realism was necessary for the story and I would agree, but it made my stomach turn.

This is a shocking look at our history with some incredible acting, but watch at your own risk because it's very graphic.

Cast trivia

  • Parker held casting calls in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Orlando, New Orleans, Raleigh and Nashville.
  • Brian Dennehy was briefly considered for the role of Rupert Anderson, but Orion Pictures suggested they cast Gene Hackman, who ultimately got the role.
  • Don Johnson campaigned heavily for the role that went to Willem Dafoe.
  • Kevin Dunn and Tobin Bell made their acting debuts as FBI agents.
  • Many of the extras participating in Clayton Townley’s speech were actual members of the Klan, and used their clan membership cards as ID.
  • The cast includes two Oscar winners (Gene Hackman and Francis McDormand) and two Oscar nominees (Willem Dafoe and Brad Dourif).
  • At one point, Gene Hackman decided that he would no longer make more violent films, after seeing a brief and violent clip of his performance in this film at the 1989 Oscars. His stance almost prevented him from accepting the Sheriff role in Unforgiven (1992), but he reluctantly accepted after being convinced by Clint Eastwood, a role that earned him his second Oscar.
  • After filming The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Willem Dafoe expressed interest in playing Agent Alan Ward. Parker traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Dafoe and he was cast shortly after.


Willem Dafoe

production trivia

  • This film is loosely based on the 1964 Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murder investigation in Mississippi. Screenwriter Chris Geroimo began work on the script in 1985 after researching the 1964 murders.
  • The film was distributed by Orion Pictures and was released on January 27, 1989..
  • The film was shot in Mississippi and Alabama.
  • Mississippi Burning (1988) received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and it won for Best Cinematography.
  • Mississippi Burning (1988) had a budget of 15 million dollars, and the worldwide box office gross was a little over 34.6 million dollars.
  • Interior shots in the Sheriff’s office, courtroom, and stairs from the courtroom were filmed in the old Carroll County courthouse in Vaiden, Mississippi. Built in 1905, the building was in such disrepair that crew and extras had to dodge falling bricks during filming. Although the courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the courthouse has been demolished.
  • The name "Mississippi Burning" was the name of the actual FBI case that was abbreviated MIBURN.

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