Mark and Michael Polish’s Northfork is a Dali-esque dreamscape where visual inventiveness and narrative incoherence combine to form a result that’s both entrancing and sleep-inducing. After Twin Falls, Idaho and Jackpot, the film could be seen as closing a loose trilogy fixated with loners who populate the American Northwest. Set in 1955, the film concerns the mystical town of Northfork, an austere Montana wasteland that’s about to be flooded by the local government. A group of six Evacuators—stoic, fedora-wearing caricatures of Elliot Ness—have been promised one-and-a-half acres of waterfront property if they can each get 65 residents to leave their homes for higher ground before the coming tidal wave. These men are angels in disguise, a fact confirmed by the gift they bring each Northfork homeowner as a means of enticing them to leave: a set of downy angel wings. Father and son Evacuators team (James Woods and Mark Polish, respectively) try to convince a man with two wives to abandon the arc he’s built in preparation for the impending flood, but the pair’s advice is at odds with their own conflict about whether or not to move their deceased wife/mother from the local cemetery. A grizzled priest (Nick Nolte) cares for young, terminally-ill Irwin, whose foster parents have deserted him; the boy, caught up in a fever dream, imagines himself among a troupe of angels (an androgynous Daryl Hannah, blind amputee Anthony Edwards, mute cowboy Ben Foster, and alcoholic Robin Sachs) who are as lost and despondent as the town’s displaced citizens. Irwin attempts to convince these heavenly creatures that he’s the missing member of their gang—he shows them the scars on his back and temples as proof that his wings and halo were forcibly amputated after he was separated from his herd of winged compatriots. The Polish Brothers, working from their own script, synthesize film noir, divine prophesy, and modern-day humor into a bleak fable about the difficulties of losing, and rediscovering, one’s place in the world, and their use of de-saturated cinematography—the film’s palette is, with two bold exceptions, limited to shades of gray—gives the peculiar proceedings an otherworldly pallor that suggests the calm eye of an apocalyptic storm. Fantastical and everyday images mingle casually in this bleak purgatory, with every movement and gesture an articulation of the ceaseless desire for salvation, freedom, hope, and comfort. However, whereas the film’s visuals strike a morose chord, the storytelling is frustratingly elliptical and pretentious, and the gravity with which the brothers imbue their modern-day fairy tale turns every performance into a study in affected inexpressiveness. Its chilly temperament is studied to the point of lifelessness, making it difficult to emotionally latch onto anything trapped in its ghostly frame. Northfork strikes an original chord but, I surmise, not one that will be music to everyone’s ears.
You can always count on Mark and Michael Polish to make good-looking movies on shoestring budgets. Northfork is gorgeous to look at and this anamorphic widescreen transfer preserves the many nuances of M. David Mullen’s photography. But while blacks are deep and skin tones are excellent, there is a considerable amount of edge enhancement on display, especially during scenes where characters are backlit. Fidelity isn’t great on the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, but dialogue is perfectly audible.
True to Northfork’s grayscale photography and turtle pace, the commentary track by Mark and Michael Polish should easily put you to sleep. (Since the identical twins have virtually the same exact voice, I’m sure their mother will get a special kick out of the track.) And true to the pretentiousness that we’ve come to expect from the brothers, the seven-part "Bare-Knuckle Filmmaking: The Construction of Northfolk" featurette is an eye-roller. What with the heavy-handed voiceover and Bible quotes that precede each part, you’d think Mark and Michael Polish were making movies for 50 years. Rounding out the disc is a theatrical trailer, a gorgeous photo gallery, the film’s Sundance’s "24-Frame News Segment," and previews of And Now Ladies and Gentleman, The Italian Job and Mostly Martha.
Meticulously designed for those who like their movies with turtlenecks and cappuccinos.