A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
There has never been a movie quite like "Northfork," but if you wanted to put it on a list, you would also include "Days of Heaven" and "Wings of Desire." It has the desolate open spaces of the first, the angels of the second, and the feeling in both of deep sadness and pity. The movie is visionary and elegiac, more a fable than a story, and frame by frame, it looks like a portfolio of spaces so wide, so open, that men must wonder if they have a role beneath such indifferent skies.
The film is set in Montana in 1955, as the town of Northfork prepares to be submerged forever beneath the waters of a dam. Three two-man Evacuation Teams travel the countryside in their fat black sedans, persuading the lingering residents to leave. The team members have a motivation: They have all been promised waterfront property on the lake to come. Most of the residents have already pulled out, but one stubborn citizen opens fire on Evacuators, and another plans to ride out the flood waters in his Ark, which does not have two of everything but does have two wives, a detail Noah overlooked.
Other lingerers include Irwin (Duel Farnes), a pale young orphan who has been turned back in by his adoptive parents (Claire Forlani and Clark Gregg) on the grounds that he is defective. "You gave us a sick child, Father," they tell Father Harlan, the parish priest (Nick Nolte). "He can't stand the journey." The priest cares for the child himself, although the lonely little kid is able to conjure up company by imagining four angels who come to console him. Or are they imaginary? They are real for little Irwin, and that should be real enough for us.
The town evokes the empty, lonely feeling you get when you make a last tour of a home you have just moved out of. There is a scene where the six Evacuators line up at the counter in a diner to order soup. "Bowl or cup?" asks the waitress, and as they consider this choice with grave poker faces, we get the feeling that only by thinking very hard about soup can they avoid exploding in a frenzy of madness. One of Harlan's final church services is conducted after the back wall has already been removed from his church, and the landscape behind him looks desolate.