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Northfork
2003 - PG-13 - 112 Mins.
Director: Michael Polish
Producer: Mark Polish and Michael Polish
Written By: Mark Polish and Michael Polish
Starring: James Woods, Mark Polish, Nick Nolte, Duel Farnes, Daryl Hannah, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards, Robin Sachs, Peter Coyote, Claire Forlani
Review by: Jennie Kermode
   

We may not have gotten a story, but at least we got a check.
Set in the 1950s, in a Midwestern American valley which is about to be flooded to create a new reservoir, Northfork recounts the stories of the last few residents lingering in their doomed town. Amongst them is a boy (newcomer Duel Farnes) too ill to be moved, through whose delerious visions a strange redemption is achieved.

Northfork takes a lingering look at America's religious past, at the blurring of assorted Christian teachings with native myths and human passions, and at the landscape within which these dreams came to shape reality. It's a hugely ambitious film which looks none the worse for being made on a shoestring budget, yet, whilst it has its moments of brilliance, it is never really compelling or consistent enough to carry the viewer along.

The biggest of Northfork's problems is its pacing. For the first half hour, the story meanders around without apparent aim, making occasional futile stabs at cleverness or sweeping emotion, resulting in a restless, faintly annoyed audience. Those who keep paying attention will do so principally because of the striking visual beauty of the scenes presented. The vastness of the Midwestern landscape is ably conveyed through bold, stark cinematography, with natural weather effects well utilised to show the rawness of the townsfolk's experience.

Northfork seems not simply rural, but itself natural, as if its soon to be drowned buildings had grown that way; and in their shabby, half-dismantled shape, they look no less beloved. Nevertheless, beauty alone can't often save a film, and it takes patience to see this one through to the point where a coherent narrative begins to develop. This narrative makes overt use of surrealist devices, yet confident performances from the boy and from Gregory Peck as the old priest who tends to him provide a resilient emotional centre.

Unfortunately, theirs is only one strand of the story. The parallel adventures of a group of government workers endeavouring to remove unwilling townsfolk from their homes were apparently intended to provide comic relief, but raise not so much as a smile, proving instead to be unrelentingly tedious.

The boy's story, which mercifully becomes central to the latter part of the film, is marred by an overly self-conscious approach to the tropes of surrealist cinema. Androgyny, queer Englishmen, tea parties, oil paintings and frilly clothing have been thrown in haphazardly as if in some film-making-by-numbers attempt to create atmosphere. Again, these elements are visually sumptuous, but they fail to engage on any other level. There's an awful lot of peculiarity for its own sake, which contributes nothing to the film and causes the story to drag even more. This is a particular shame as it reduces the impact of the film's few genuinely strange and brilliant ideas.

Northfork is one of those films which might best be summed up as "difficult". If someone were to produce a re-edited version about twenty minutes long, it would be sure to win plentiful awards. As it is, most people are unlikely to consider a viewing of Northfork at feature length worth the effort.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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