Directed by Michael Polish
Written by Mark Polish & Michael Polish
Starring Darryl Hannah, Nick Nolte, James Woods
With it’s wonderful cinematography and religious iconography Northfork comes across as an interesting, meaningful work of art. That is to say, I assume it is according to what I hear from some other reviewers. I was actually bored almost to the point of unconsciousness and had no idea what was going on.
There are two plotlines that run through Northfork. The town is being evacuated of its last residents to make way for the installation of a dam and reservoir, and a young orphan boy is sick and dying. The parallel nature of the stories starts off as an interesting premise, but they go nowhere excruciatingly slow.
Most of the town’s residents have left Northfork, Montana, to make way for the dam. Some people have refused to leave initially, but three two-man groups of evacuators are trying to persuade them. The motivation for the evacuators is that if they get 65 homeowners to leave, they will receive lakefront property after the town has been flooded. One incentive being given to the residents is a large pair of white wings; they are about the size a person could wear. This odd gift doesn’t get much of a reaction from those who encounter it, which is even odder than the gift itself.
Meanwhile, Irwin’s adoptive parents return him to the orphanage on their way out of town because he's too sick to make the drive. Father Harlan doesn't believe them, but has no choice, so he takes care of Irwin. While in bed battling his illness, Irwin meets/creates some sort of dream/hallucination manifestations from his surroundings while he’s sick. The foursome is made up of Cup of Tea, Happy, Flower Hercules and lastly Cod who never speaks. I must admit, when Cod was introduced his name sounded like it was God. He was never referred to again so I found this annoyingly pretentious throughout the rest of the film until I learned the character’s name in the credits, which I know is unfair, but maybe a character should be referred to more than once.
From the talk of some critics and the film’s press kit, the foursome is supposed to be a group of angels looking for a lost member. Flower is distracted from moving ahead with their plan because she thinks Irwin is that angel; “Angels” are how the orphans are described to prospective parents. There is some phony tension created when Cup of Tea wants the group to move on, but if the mission is to find their missing member, what’s the rush when Flower thinks Irwin might be the one. It’s never clarified why, only that they have to get going. Later, when checking on an abandoned home, James Woods falls and very briefly he sees the foursome. This creates another confusing moment because the angels have been very distinctly shown to be elements in Irwin’s life, only then to be seen by Mr. O’Brien later in the film. This doesn’t seem possible, but the rules regarding angels in this world are one of the film’s many unclear elements.
The desaturated colors of Montana do look good, but the tale moves along at so sluggish a pace I didn't care. I checked my watch at 20 minutes in and now I'm kicking myself for not leaving then. Northfork feels like it's trying to be early David Lynch minus all the traits that made Lynch's films enjoyable. An example of this is when all the evacuators go to a diner where O’Brien, as the spokesman, has to guess what food is being served. Finally, he correctly guesses, “Soup,” and then the men ponder whether they want a "bowl or a cup." There’s an oddness that is supposed to be compelling and amusing, but it fails to achieve either result.
There are some critics raving about this film and maybe if I had to sit through things like Gigli, Charlie's Angels 2 and Legally Blonde 2, my enthusiasm would be over exuberant as well, but it's really not that special. Some viewers are filling in gaps with creations of their own because I've seen different interpretations of the film that don't match what was on the screen. I even disagree with some of the interpretations in the press kit, which was written by people who knew ahead of time what the story should be and not by someone who watched the film solely.
I don't trust the Polish brothers are so great a writing duo that they're beyond me. There's an extreme lack of subtlety when one gentleman who hasn't left town yet is called Mr. Stalling and another man who is interested in adopting Irwin is called Mr. Hope. Why are some elements jammed in your face so there’s no room for misinterpretation and yet have other parts of the film where it feels like scenes are missing? Even Willis appears to be named solely so his father can say the line, "Whatcha talking about, Willis?"
If you like figuring out puzzles, this film might be up your alley, but when you find out all the pieces aren't in the box, you may be as frustrated as I was. I enjoy mystery and ambiguity in films and I don’t need to be spoon-fed exposition and thematics. I like works where I’m expected to bring something to comprehend the story, making me an active participant, but when bulk of deciphering the film’s meaning is on me, I should get either a story credit or a free viewing.