What do Burt Lancaster and Donald Trump have in common? Well, it seems Burt was a kind of prescient version of The Donald. In Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (1983), he played an American oil tycoon trying to buy up a Scottish village to make room for a refinery; almost 30 years later, Trump tries to buy out residents in the same north-eastern corner of the country to make room for a golf course – as if they don’t have enough of them up there already – and a resort.
As in the film, things don’t go as expected. The locals, threatened with “compulsory purchase orders” and supported by environmentalists and others, dig their toes in, and journalist and filmmaker Anthony Baxter goes along to film the inevitable stoush. And gets into one himself. Pre-empting the obvious comparisons, Baxter inserts clips from Forsyth’s film, but really, they’re a little clunky and superfluous.
The real-life dramas are compelling enough – they help transcend the episodic and sometimes repetitive nature of the story and give more insight into the combatants. Because after the standard scene-setting and interviews, what moves this documentary out of familiar David and Goliath territory are the small, telling moments showing David and Goliath – especially Goliath – unguarded.
Doggedly following his subjects around, Baxter observes them as much as he gets them to talk (or not) to him, and captures on camera or on audio their flaws and emotions. Trump’s vanity, contempt, bullying and hypocrisy are put on show. We see the alarming things his hair does in the Scottish breeze. There is toadying by Aberdeen’s great and good, and a stubborn refusal to cave from the residents.
This doggedness eventually leads to his arrest, but not before his camera has recorded the lead-up and shows the extent to which Trump has charmed the authorities with his wealth, glamour and promises of jobs. Were there ever going to be thousands of jobs created, or any environmental benefits from the development? Baxter marshals experts who say no, but isn’t so good at canvassing the other side. Considering the claims of up to 90% support in Aberdeen, this is a little troubling. But this was clearly a heart-on-sleeve project, and it’s a lot of fun seeing Trump in his more gobsmacking moments. Alas, these don’t include him paddling in the sea, trousers rolled à la Burt.
YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED, directed by Anthony Baxter
OPENS DECEMBER 6
Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing