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Two FBI agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 16 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Mrs. Pell
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Sheriff Ray Stuckey
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Lester Cowens
Badja Djola ...
Agent Monk
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Agent Bird
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Eulogist
Thomas B. Mason ...
Judge (as Tom Mason)
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Rick Zieff ...
Passenger
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Storyline

Two FBI agents investigating the murder of civil rights workers during the 60s seek to breach the conspiracy of silence in a small Southern town where segregation divides black and white. The younger agent trained in FBI school runs up against the small town ways of his former Sheriff partner. Written by Keith Loh <loh@sfu.ca>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

1964. When America was at war with itself.


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R | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

27 January 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Three Lives for Mississippi  »

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Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Gross:

$34,603,943 (USA)
 »

Company Credits

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman and Frances McDormand and two Oscar nominees: Willem Dafoe and Brad Dourif. See more »

Goofs

When Agents Ward and Anderson are fighting outside the hospital where Mrs. Pell is after being beaten by her husband, Ward pulls a gun on Anderson. We hear Ward cock his revolver. In a subsequent shot, while Ward still has his gun pointed at Anderson, we can see the hammer has not been pulled back as the sound effect would have indicated. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Driver: Uh, oh.
Passenger: What is it?
Passenger: [seeing the car behind them] What do they want?
Driver: I don't know... just pass me... pass me...
Driver: [trying to identify the following car] Is it a cop?
Passenger: I can't see.
[they are hit from behind]
Driver: What the fuck are these jokers playin' at?
Rear passenger: Oh, they ain't playin', you better believe it.
[...]
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Spise med Price: Are You Hungry Tonight (2010) See more »

Soundtracks

Try Jesus
Words and Music by Roberta Martin
Performed by Vesta Williams
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Underestimated
11 August 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Well, I guess this is why movies are so personal to the viewer.

I've read some of the other comments here and have seen words like "condescending" and "mediocre."

I couldn't disagree more. "Mississippi Burning" is an intellectually challenging movie. It demands that you immerse yourself in the worst of southern culture, whether you like it or not.

Based on a true story, the film takes place in 1964 (my birth year, incidentally) in a small town ugly and virulent with racism. The good ol' boy sheriff and his stoolies ambush and in cold blood murder three civil rights workers. The world's a-changing, but the power-brokers in this place refuse to let that happen. They'll do anything to prevent blacks from taking their rightful place at the table - literally.

The FBI sends a couple of mismatched agents in to search for the three missing young men. One agent (Hackman) is 'old school', sly, and knows his enemies a little too well. The other (Dafoe) is a naive Kennedy fire-eater, ready to bring the full force of the FBI and military down upon this small town's head. Although he is easy to underestimate at first, he grows into his role, showing astonishing decisiveness and strength.

The relationship between the town's blacks and whites is complicated and fraught with rules - spoken and unspoken. It's a not-so-secret secret that the civil rights workers have been murdered. Hackman and Dafoe just have to get the bodies and the evidence, that's all. Fear and loathing prevent that from happening, until the wife of a deputy (the amazing Frances McDormand) throws herself on the fire and blows her slimy husband's alibi.

There is justice - of a sort - in the end. It's not enough. Real change crawls on it's belly in the south.

"Mississippi Burning" is a movie of operatic gestures. The script is spongey with regional color and snappy, powerful dialogue.

Hackman and McDormand are simply magical. They don't take or make a false step from the first frame to the last. As she would go on to prove in later films, McDormand doesn't just 'play' a character - she IS that character. And Hackman is never more affecting that in this film. One syllable from him is more subtle than an entire Shakespeare speech when delivered by a lesser actor. Hackman is a national treasure.

IMO, Dafoe is a well-meaning revelation until circumstances forces him to cave into Hackman's just-get-it-done ways. He comes to see that idealism must relent to pragmatism in extreme cases, although that knowledge repulses him. He wants nothing more than to get out of the south and go home to a world he believes is cleaner and more simple.

The conclusion of "Mississippi" is more bitter than sweet. The guilty are arrested and convicted, although their various punishments are a joke. (R. Lee Ermey is the only one in the bunch who meets a just fate.) McDormand is brutally beaten to within an inch of her life for betraying the status quo and doing the right thing. Although she and Hackman have fallen in love, she refuses to leave with him because "this" - gesturing to the vandalized ruins of the house she was born in - "is my home."

I know the history, and I know this movie inside and out. And yet I still bawl like a baby every time I see it. The power of this film and the fact that "Mississippi" is based on ACTUAL EVENTS never fails to get to me.

"Mississippi Burning" has a place in my 'Top 50 Dramas.'


23 of 27 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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