As you may have noticed, the much touted '90s "Angel craze" is still going strong in the '00s. And venturing beyond Charlie's benign buns-of-steel babes and Kevin Smith's dogmatic Bible humpers, lots of little films have suggested that said flying furies actually play havoc with troubled kids' fantasy lives. In Rebecca Miller's 1996 Angela, the protag is tormented by visions of a pasty, life-size archangel curled in her bedroom corner. This year's Blue Car and Lilya 4-Ever feature children who drift into angel madness and surrender to its deadly swoon.
Now, Michael and Mark Polish deliver Northfork, a surreal fable in which events surrounding a mid-century Montana town's dam-necessitated evacuation blur with the seraphic fever dreams of a sick orphan.
This last of the brothers' American heartland trilogy (including 1999's Twin Falls Idaho and 2001's Jackpot) suffers from their trademark self-satisfaction, but as with Idaho, a suffused empathy nearly makes up for the belaboring of key messages—in Idaho, reaction shots denoting Michelle Hicks' compassion for the titular conjoined twins. This time it's unearthed graves and telltale markers of conformism among henchmen (James Woods among them) sent to evict the town's most intransigent holdouts.
To the Polishes' credit, these evictions are ambitiously tracked through the warped imagination of bedridden little Irwin (newcomer Duel Farnes), ministered to in a church infirmary by half-mad pastor Nick Nolte. The boy's meager effects spur fantasies of his own divinity and provide the attributes of a makeshift family of angels he seeks to rejoin: androgyne parent Flower Hercules (Daryl Hannah), scientist-savant Happy (Anthony Edwards), and British sourpuss Cup of Tea (Robert Sachs).
The Northwestern panoramas feel doomed enough to sustain the ambiguity of Irwin's perspective (we're never sure how much of his exchanges are really happening) as well as the film's ongoing Revelation-tinged confrontations between the dam-building capitalists and wild-eyed homesteaders. But unlike documentarian Travis Wilkerson's recent meditation on Butte's bloody history, An Injury to One, Northfork's overall ponderousness prevents it from becoming a transcendent fictive poem on the violent domestication of the West.
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Northfork was directed by Michael Polish; written and produced by Mark & Michael Polish; and stars Mark Polish, James Woods, Nick Nolte, Anthony Edwards, Duel Farnes And Daryl Hannah. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.