review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 25 July 2003
Hannah as hermaphrodyte angel. A strange and sublime concept,
conjured by Mark and Michael Polish, it is also the perfect use of
Hannah's long limbs and unusual angles. As Flower Hercules, with sad
eyes, short black hair, and a gentle manner, Hannah brings a
haunting and much welcome generosity to Northfork, the third
installment of the brothers' "American trilogy," after Twin
Falls Idaho (1999) and Jackpot (2001).
only one component in Northfork's odd vista, Flower Hercules
stands out, in part because s/he is not a man, in a film full of
them, in pressed suits and ragged duress, by degrees frustrated,
bristling, and conniving. Flower Hercules is also unusual among her
crew of angels, the leader Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs), mute cowboy Cod
(Ben Foster), and gadget-maker Happy (Anthony Edwards), with wooden
hands and elaborately thick glasses. Compared to her edgy and
distracted fellows, Flower Hercules is gracious and attentive.
object of her focus is Irwin (Duel Farnes), a pasty, ailing orphan
who floats in and out of restive dreams throughout the film, and who
may or may not be imagining these angels as a way of saving himself.
With bumps on his head that may have been caused by a halo and scars
on his back that look like remnants of missing wings, Irwin has it
in his head that he's an angel left behind by accident, looking to
be reunited with relatives he never knew he had.
desire is understandable, as Irwin's earthly existence is bereft of
good news. At film's beginning, he's abandoned by his adoptive
parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hadfield (Clark Gregg and Claire Forlani), who
leave him with at a home with ravaged Father Harlan (Nick Nolte).
The institution is ominously empty, as everyone else has also left
town. The reason for their flight is the film's second major
plot-point-as-metaphor (after, or in tandem with, the angels): it's
1955, and Northfork, Montana is about to be flooded, owing to a
spangly new hydroelectric dam. Everyone has been urged to move on,
in the name of "progress."
its poetic, elusive way, Northfork takes up this notion of
"progress." For some, like Irwin and the Hadfields,
impending events are disastrous. When the parents leave, uttering
precious few lines between them, the child serves as the
sympathetic, vulnerable, if somewhat mythic, individual; at the same
time, the dam, along with its black-suited, narrow-tied
representatives, become emblems of earnest industry and the future
from which there is no turning back.
action takes place during the last forty-eight hours before the
flood. But it still moves deliberately, granting each separate scene
its own frame, a beginning and end. The men go forth in pairs,
"Evacuation Teams" who encourage residents to leave, with
inducements including cash and their own motivation as well (they've
been promised parcels of "lakefront property" following
the deluge). One team is a father and son, Walter O'Brien (James
Woods) and Willis (Mark Polish), who must also cope with the fact
that the changing landscape necessitates digging up graves,
including the one where Walter's wife is buried: "When this
small town becomes the biggest lake this side of the
Mississippi," he tells Willis, "your mother will be the
catch of the day."
of the Evacuators share a similarly offbeat sense of humor, though
whether this derives from or is inspired by their work is hard to
say. They begin their mission with inspiring instruction ("Just
go in like you're guardian angels"), then ride in black Fords,
across stark gray landscapes, each team assigned a recalcitrant
holdout. Among these is one old man who's nailed himself to his
porch and takes to shooting at his "angels," but in such a
lackadaisical way that both parties -- shooter and shootees -- end
up falling asleep, waking with a start, to realize the futility of
their disparate "missions." Another is a man with two
wives, who's refashioned his home as an ark, ready to float away
when the waters come.
fact, the film, like the other two by the identical twin Polish
brothers, thematizes doubleness, in the two-man teams, two stories,
two days before the flood. But it also finds difference in sameness,
the layered pairings offering points of view that mirror but also
refract one another. Most especially, Flower Hercules embodies a
visible doubleness and quiet self-consciousness beyond typical
understandings of individuality and movement. Much less interested
in plot than in theme and image, Northfork imagines a journey
without a clear end, along the way challenging, in particular, U.S.
myths of enduring national identity, corporate good will, and
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.