Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: James Woods, Nick Nolte, Claire Forlani, Duel Farnes, Mark Polish, Daryl Hannah
Director: Michael Polish
America in the 1950s. Northfork is a small, near-deserted, town located somewhere in the wide open rural plains of Montana; it has only two more days to live because the geographical basin in which it is situated has been earmarked for flooding as part of an ambitious hydroelectric project. A few defiant stragglers remain steadfast: holed up in their houses, resolutely determined to ignore the compulsory purchase orders placed on their respective properties. Therefore, the Evacuation Committee – six sombre be-suited men all wearing dark trench coats and hats – are charged with the duty of visiting these properties and encouraging the stubborn human remnants of the town to pack their bags and depart. The resistance offered by the incumbents ranges from stubborn theologically-themed arguments to shotgun-toting rage, but the Evacuation Committee are equally determined to fulfil their duties because they have to reach a given quota of evictions in order to receive payment for their work. One resident who will not be departing, however, is a sickly orphan (Duel Farnes) who is too ill to move and remains at the town’s rundown orphanage, cared for by the grizzled local priest Father Harlan (Nick Nolte). Lying in his sickbed Irwin escapes into a land of dreams where a motley quartet of bizarre looking angels offer him solace through conversation, companionship, and the suggestion that maybe he can join them on their travels – thus finally offering him somewhere he can fit in.
Slight on plot NORTHFORK is also a slow-moving affair. Surreal images and elements of fantasy sit alongside more prosaic set pieces and one cannot help being impressed more by the painterly visual aspect of the film than the narrative flow. Technically there is much to admire in NORTHFORK: principally the colour-drained visual orchestration of much of the photography. There are some nicely understated performances from an exceptionally strong cast (Nolte, James Woods, Daryl Hannah, Peter Coyote, Anthony Edwards, Claire Forlani, Kyle Maclachlan), and ultimately I enjoyed the film but was slightly frustrated by what often seemed to be quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake. The influence of David Lynch and Tim Burton is evident, as is the offbeat humour of the Coen brothers; but a stronger comparison may be to the early films of Peter Greenaway about which it could often be said their best moments would be equally (if not more) effective on a canvas in a gallery rather than on a screen in a cinema.