Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/06/03 08:14:45

"What an odd little film."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: If you’re already familiar with the Polish Brothers, you’d be aware that recommending their films to people with an IQ lower than 120 can be a dangerous enterprise. The Polish twins are a little bit whacked out, and though they make beautiful movies that are full of ambiguity and meaning, to the vast majority of cinema audiences such qualities translate to mutters of “Huh?” and “What the hell was that all about?” The third in their Northwest trilogy, Northfork, is as likely to confuse as anything they’ve ever made; the basic storyline involves a community in the 50’s that is being moved so a hydroelectric dam can be built in it’s place. The more eccentric storyline involves angels, Nick Nolte as a priest, a wooden dog and a kid with great scars down his back. If you’ve rented an Adam Sandler film in the last month, you might want to move along.

So Northfork is on the way out of existence. Most of the families have been moved and some are even happy about the shift, but others still aren’t planning to go anywhere. Northfork is their home, and ain’t no Northfork II going to feel like the place they grew up. Take the man who has nailed his feet to his front porch as an example. Even if you get past his shotgun, what are you going to do to get him to move - amputate? Then there’s the weirdo who’s built an ark, and stocked it with two wives. Tough to make a man see he’s about to drown when he’s got an ark under his feet and a nightly threesome to look forward to.

The folks with the job of moving the miscreants are the Evacuation Committee; a band of locals who’ve been promised a nice big parcel of land on the shores of the new Northfork if they can move 65 residents a piece. Two of those (Executive Producer James Woods and Josh Barker) are a father/son team who also has to consider whether or not they want to excavate the body of their dead wife/mother, or leave her to become a fishing line snag.

Northfork has all the hallmarks of a Polish Brothers production. It’s understated, wordy, funny in parts, corny in others, is stacked with weirdo characters and odd plot twists, and generally makes you feel that, even if you didn’t enjoy the film entirely, at least you went through an original experience in not enjoying it. Some of the humor in particular is refreshingly, deliberately bad. Take for example the tattered welcome mat out front of one home (“looks like they’ve worn out their welcome…”) or the Woods’ exclamation when his son Willis says something he doesn’t get (“What you talking about, Willis?”).

Groan. But in a good way.

The real beauty of Northfork is also, unfortunately, its great detriment. The Polish kids opted to make use of Magical Realism, a mode of literature in which fantasy and reality are intertwined so that you can often not differentiate between the two. Think Amelie, or Brazil, or The Princess Bride. And while this adds a dimension to the film, it also leaves it muddled, confusing and explaining itself a little too often. A side-plot involving a team of angels on the search for one of their brethren is never really convincing, and until the very end when you can put two and two together this surreal aspect of the film detracts from what could have been it’s real selling point – the humanity of the piece.

Nick Nolte turns in a plodding performance as a priest trying to help a boy who is too sick to move, Kyle MacLachlan disappears all too soon in a cameo as a potential dad of said sick boy, and while Woods is Woods, with so many stories going on at once it’s hard for him to break out and give his character three dimensions.

Northfork’s a good film. Not a great film, but a great effort at a great film, especially considering it took them only 25 days to shoot it, and such ingenuity and originality is something that should always be applauded. Definitely unique, definitely a thinker, definitely worth your time.

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