Accidental Hero

USA, 1992, M, 118 mins. Director: Stephen Frears. Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Geena Davis.

Although I'd heard that Stephen Frears's Accidental Hero did poorly, critically and commercially, in the U.S., I was persuaded to see it when David Stratton in The Australian called it "perhaps his most interesting work to date... an unusually satisfying and challenging entertainment." I'm glad I did: good old David was completely right. Accidental Hero is Frears's warmest and most human film (not to mention his funniest): no small achievement from one who has already given us My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Grifters.

Accidental Hero is a satire about a small-time crook, Bernie La Plante (Hoffman), who becomes a big-time hero when he reluctantly rescues passengers from the wreckage of a crashed plane. In the confusion, no one remembers what the Hero looks like, and network reporter Gail Gayley (Davis) launches a major campaign to find the "Angel of Flight 101". Tempted by a big reward, a homeless junk-man (Garcia) claims he's the hero—and Bernie, who's having to deal with an estranged wife, courtrooms, and shifty crims, has a hard time convincing anyone otherwise.

It's not surprising that a lot of Americans didn't take to this film, because Accidental Hero is a full-on bagging of a subject near and dear to so many: the media. It takes to pieces the media's love of creating heroes, who are easy to focus on and easy to interview. Along the way we're treated to some cutting parodies of American news reports (which are actually closer to the truth than one might imagine: the pale Australian imitations of American news bulletins we see on breakfast TV are only half as offensive as the real thing). An uncredited Chevy Chase (as Gail's boss) and an oh-so-earnest cameraman complete the hilarious picture.

La Plante is a fine Hoffman creation. Some critics have found his performance an easy target, saying that he's merely recreated his Ratso Rizzo role from Midnight Cowboy. It's a cheap shot. They're both fairly unattractive cheap crims, sure, and they're both played by Dustin Hoffman; but Bernie remains a distinct character, and besides, why should Hoffman have to be completely different in every role he plays? How many people under 25 have seen Midnight Cowboy, anyway?

Still, it's good to read reviews that one disagrees with completely, because it reminds you that you can make up your own mind about a film. So don't take my word for it: see Accidental Hero for yourself. I'll be surprised if you don't enjoy it, though: it's one of the few films I've seen in a cinema that I've heard applauded at the end.


First published in a reviews booklet of the ANU Film Group.
This page: 31 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1993, 2000 Rory Ewins