Northfork

What a ****ing letdown.

“Northfork,” directed by Michael Polish, is a slow burn of a movie that took me a long time to get into. But I did get into it, so much so that when the first DVD I was watching died on me (small crack in the disc), I waited a day, rented it again just to watch the last half hour and see where all these characters ended up. I don’t necessarily regret that, but it turned out to not be worth the effort.

It’s a simple story; the town of Northfork, Montana, is a dammed town (I promise, my one and only pun), set to be flooded in a few days. Six g-men go from house to house, making sure the last of the residents leave before the great deluge. If each team of two can evacuate 65 people, they have been promised 1.5 acres of lakefront property, plus extra acres for bonus evacuees; naturally, they take the job seriously.

The other half of the story concerns a little orphan boy, Irwin (Duel Farnes); his adopted parents have returned him to the orphanage because he’s too sick for the journey. Father Harlan (Nick Nolte), the local reverend, takes him in and tries to nurse him back to health, meanwhile praying for a miracle for the boy, be it family or health.

Intermixed with the other two stories comes four for-lack-of-a-better-word eccentrics searching for something. Irwin happens upon them and convinces them that he is what they’re looking for, with mixed results all around.

What’s most disappointing here is that for a while, I liked what I was seeing. Polish has quite an eye, and the visuals, including some clever fantasy sequences, are a sight to behold. He’s a director that knows his medium, but the same can’t be said of the writing. The puns-aplenty script, written by Polish and his brother Mark Polish, elicited more groans than anything else and in a lot of places, the dialogue (and not just from the eccentrics) felt forced and unnatural.

The pieces aren’t bad, the performances are sincere, but my passing interest in both sides of the story didn’t amount to anything. The movie doesn’t go anywhere, the characters in one way or another all get what they want, and the impending flood is there just to create a sense of urgency that even the characters don’t care about (just a thought, but a plot device as MacGuffin was probably not the best way to go).

It took me a full 30 minutes to figure out what was going on, another 30 minutes to care about what was going on, and the last 40 minutes to discover that I didn’t care after all. What a waste indeed.

While I know that “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the Coen brothers’ Depression-era adaptation of “The Odyssey,” is not their best work, but I enjoy it anyway. The visual style bears some resemblance to “Northfork,” but the lively execution more than makes up for any shortcomings. And even if you don’t like the movie, the soulful bluegrass of the soundtrack is worth the trip.

Northfork (2003)

Directed by Michael Polish

Written by Michael Polish and Mark Polish

Starring: Duel Farnes (Irwin)

Nick Nolte (Father Harlan)

James Woods (Walter O’Brien)

Darryl Hannah (Flower Hercules)