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With: James Woods, Nick Nolte, Daryl Hannah, Mark Polish, Claire Forlani, Peter Coyote, Jon Gries, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards, Robin Sachs, Rick Overton, Joshuin Barker, Duel Farnes, Graham Beckel, Josh Barker
Written by: Mark Polish, Michael Polish
Directed by: Michael Polish
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief sexuality
Running Time: 103
Date: 01/21/2003

Northfork (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Far Out 'North'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Mark and Michael Polish's new film Northfork, land and sky and water meet in the middle of a gorgeous Cinemascope frame, and their meeting feels as odd, funny and touching as a family reunion.

The movie grabs our attention with a superb opening shot: the calm waters of a lake are suddenly disturbed as a coffin bobs to the surface.

Criss-crossing twin plots, Northfork first follows six men (including James Woods, Mark Polish and Peter Coyote) wearing black suits and hats. It's 1955 in the town of Northfork, Montana and the town is being evacuated to make way for a new dam. The men in suits are hired to make sure everyone is out, and if they reach a certain quota, they're promised new lakeside property.

Secondly, a little boy named Irwin (Duel Farnes) -- who may or may not be a fallen angel -- meets his destiny when he encounters a peculiar band of traveling strangers. Flower (Daryl Hannah) discovers Irwin wandering around a graveyard and brings him back to the scholarly Happy (Anthony Edwards), with his multi-lens glasses and wooden hands, Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs), the group's father figure, and Cod (Ben Foster), a mute who plays a music box. These people are looking for the angel, but must make sure that Irwin is really him before they take him away.

As a terminally sick child, Irwin has already been abandoned. His adoptive parents (Claire Forlani and Clark Gregg) leave him behind with Father Harlan (Nick Nolte) when they realize that he won't survive the move. Father Harlan cares for the bedridden boy and gives sermons to increasingly small flocks of locals; even the back wall of his church is gone and a herd of cows continuously wanders behind his pulpit.

Meanwhile the men in suits roam around the flat, white landscape, meeting the strange inhabitants who refuse to leave. One man sits on his front porch and fires a shotgun at two of the men until he falls asleep. When the men approach, they find that he has nailed his feet to the porch. Another local has built his house into an ark that he hopes will weather the storm. He also has two wives and lots of animal heads mounted on his walls.

Finally the two storylines collide when two of the men in suits, Walter O'Brien (Woods) and his son Willis (Polish) enter the house inhabited by the four angel seekers. Walter is allowed to see them only for a moment, but it changes everything.

The movie hints at connections between the two storylines all the way through; certain shapes turn up again and again, and each of the six men in suits wear little white feathers -- angel wings? -- in their hats.

Northfork is a controlled movie, a craftsman's movie, which concentrates more on composition and mood and sound and small moments than it does on realism or character motivation. In other words, it lines up with films by Kubrick, the Coen brothers and Terrence Malick. Many people will leave wondering just who these characters were, but I don't think that's really the point. The film would rather we simply open our eyes and notice things.

The Polishes mix a sense of haunting beauty with a whimsical humor, though not always successfully. Indeed, the movie crosses bits of the Polish's previous two films, the mysterious, surreal Twin Falls Idaho and the funny, rambling, underrated Jackpot. The movie's smattering of jokes can be amusing, such as Happy examining a pile of supposed angel feathers and declaring their actual origin: "duck... duck... goose." Yet sometimes the laughs can break the moood.

But these are nitpicks. Northfork is still a beautiful, superbly crafted, constantly surprising film that completely transports you into its peculiar world. It wallows in the sadness of endings, but finishes off with a new beginning.

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