Using the shocking murders of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, as its inspiration, MISSISSIPPI BURNING presents a grotesquely fictionalized version of the events and turns them into another cop-buddy movie. Alan Ward and Rupert Anderson (Dafoe

and Hackman) are two very different FBI agents sent to Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of the young men. Ward is morally outraged by the racism he finds in the South and is determined to do something about it, while Anderson wanders the streets like a good ol' boy, chatting with the

townsfolk to ferret out clues. MISSISSIPPI BURNING is visually splendid. From the sets, costumes, props, and Mississippi locations to the gorgeous cinematography of Peter Biziou, director Parker and his crew have created a film that is unquestionably watchable. As a history lesson, however, it's

laughable: the FBI were far from heroes to civil rights activists, and insofar as the struggle succeeded, it was because American blacks took their own destiny in hand, not because they were rescued by paternalistic white authority figures.