Saturday 4 June 2022

Movie Review: Country (1984)

A life-on-the-farm drama, Country does not expand much beyond a heartfelt but basic life-is-tough message. 

Jewel and Gil Ivey (Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard) operate an Iowa farm that has been in her family for generations. Her father Otis (Wilford Brimley) helps out, and the couple are raising teenager Carlisle, the younger Marlene, plus an infant.

Times are tough, the price of corn is low, and bankers represented by Tom McMullen (Matt Clark) apply pressure on the Iveys and adjacent farmers to start paying down debt or risk foreclosure. Gil buckles under the pressure, not helped by a drinking habit. It's left to Jewel to hold the family together and fight back to maintain control of her property.

Along with The River and Places In The Heart, Country was the third farm-based drama from 1984 featuring an A-list actress in the lead role. Jessica Lange does her part on this homestead, often looking out to the murky future somewhere in the mid-distance as she juggles an errant husband, a brooding child, a failing business, and a crusty father, all leading to drawing a line in the mud. That her final stand against evil banks is, at best, a pyrrhic victory is an apt summary of the film.

The William D. Wittliff script is more about concepts than plotting. Farming is a tough, underappreciated, and heavily leveraged way to make a living, politicians setting trade policies in faraway cities don't have a clue, and bankers are always slimy and can be downright mean in extending credit then pulling it back. The Iveys and their neighbors are plonked into these realities, and that's about it. An early tornado and later a capitulation to despair provide punch, but otherwise the family tensions arising from mounting financial pressure, exasperated by Gil's tendency to seek refuge inside beer bottles, are humdrum. 

Director Richard Pearce captures the mucky reality of life-in-boots, the sights, sounds, and almost smells of corn fields, livestock, sturdy pickup trucks, and extreme weather events jumping off the screen. Lacking dramatic thrust, Country settles for look and feel.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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