Directed by Michael Polish, starring Nick Nolte, James Woods, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Mark Polish, Duel Farnes, Claire Forlani, Anthony Edwards and Kyle MacLachlan.
1955 and the panhandle Montana town of Northfork is damned. Literally. The town is all but deserted with the imminent threat of a flood, poised to create an artificial lake which will power a hydroelectric scheme. A black-clad group of government agents (Woods and Coyote among them) is charged with removing a motley crew of stragglers who refuse to be uprooted. Running parallel to this story is the fate of a sickly orphan, Irwin (Duel Farnes), abandoned by his adoptive parents.
The flood scenario has intriguing narrative potential. However, writers Michael and Mark Polish have chosen a surrealist, allegorical style to tell this story. The camera lingers on largely flat, empty and silhouetted landscapes that echo scenes from Terrence Malick's 'Days of Heaven'. And while the film looks like a homage to Malick, it's peopled with characters that could have wandered in from a Coen brothers' set.
Given the tale and the manner of its telling, 'Northfork' is an oddity, but not a wholly unpleasant one. It is an acquired taste. Visually, it's sumptuous and drenched in religious and mythical imagery, which echoes the biblical themes that are explored.
However, the film's greatest gift is also its biggest downfall. The verbal seems subordinate to the visual and, with any tall tale, this can be unsatisfying for the viewer. With so much focus on imagery and fable, the narrative potential is not fully explored. The story strand involving Irwin and the band of 'angels' could have been left on the cutting room floor without impacting on the outer narrative. The fable is undermined by unbeguiling 'storybook' characters with names such as 'Happy', 'Cup of Tea' and 'Cod'. It's further let down by poor dialogue that, in trying to be erudite, comes across as pretentious and self-congratulatory.
The outer story of the flood, for me, is altogether more interesting and could have been drawn out further. James Woods' character, Walter O'Brien, seems the moral arbiter of the piece but the actor is given little chance to develop this role and the supposed witty repartee with his son, Willis (Mark Polish), does not sit easily within the context of the film.
Although the narrative is flawed, this film has a stunning visual impact and an undeniable poetic resonance that will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. Fans of meditative cinema á la Malick or Wenders will find something to enjoy here.