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Film review: Northfork

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2003 8:16 a.m. MDT

You've got to hand it to the Polish brothers, the makers of "Northfork." Their film is definitely an original, something that evokes comparisons to the works of both David Lynch and the Coen brothers.

Unfortunately, as it is, this pretty odd little fantasy-drama is more likely to leave audiences scratching their heads than it is to warm their hearts. For one thing, it's much too aloof and the answers to the questions it poses aren't forthcoming.

Also, its attempts to lighten up at times aren't very successful and even feel a bit half-hearted. It's as if the Polishes realized about halfway through production that they were taking things far too seriously and tried to overcompensate with wackiness.

As peculiar as the film is, it actually starts out in a more straightforward manner and then gets progressively weirder over its second half. The story is set in 1955, in a small Montana community that's smack dab in the middle of where the government wants to put a new dam.

So teams of men, or "evacuation committees," have been sent out to tell the unlucky homeowners that they're going to have to move. One of these men is Walter O'Brien (James Woods), who's been paired with his argumentative son (co-screenwriter Mark Polish).

Meanwhile, a most peculiar group of people — led by the enigmatic Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs) — has arrived in town around the same time. Their mission is completely different, though — they're looking for a person they believe to be "The Forgotten Angel."

You sort of have to appreciate how Polish and his brother, director/co-screenwriter Michael, manage to bring two such wildly divergent stories together. However, the explanation for it doesn't really make much sense, nor does the film as a whole.

Still, the Polishes do make good use of Stuart Matthewman's quirky score, as well as some stunning photography by cinematographer M. David Mullen and his crew. (To say that some of the imagery is striking just doesn't do it justice.)

As for the cast, most seem to be struggling with their rather underdeveloped characters. The one person who really seems to be enjoying himself is Anthony Edwards, as one of the stranger newcomers.

"Northfork" is rated PG-13 for scattered use of profanity, violence (gunfire and a brief tussle), some brief sexual contact and brief drug content (use of anesthetics and a hypodermic needle). Running time: 103 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com