COUNTRY. Directed by Richard Pearce; written by William D. Wittliff; produced by William D. Wittliff and Jesse Lange for Touchstone. Starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. Rated PG.
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Cities or suburbs are the usual settings for movies about today's problems. Country, obviously, is different. The locale here is real country—an itty bitty town with gigantic grain elevators (do they ever really fill those things?) surrounded by lots of flat, open farmland.
This realistic and powerful setting (the movie was filmed in Iowa) is one of the stars of Country. Both it and the human cast are impressive. Unfortunately, the movie's politics are hard to focus on, at least for this lifelong city dweller. And they tend to overwhelm the interesting domestic drama.
Jewell (Lange) and Gil Ivy (Shepard) are farmers working land that has been in her family for generations. But times aren't good for the small, family-run farm. They have the usual weather problems—drought, tornadoes, etc. But they also get low prices for their crops and must make payments on their government loans as well as live off the proceeds.
Then there's a policy shift in the Farmers Homes Administration. From being accomodating to long-term loan holders, they change to trying to "cut their losses." Families like the Ivys, with greatly diminished net worth, are to be urged to liquidate.
This suggestion hits them like a ton of bricks. Gil can't handle the implication that he's a failure, and starts to drink. But Jewell decides to fight back as best she can.
It's hard to believe now that Lange's first movie was the remake of King Kong. She's a fine actress and proves it again here. She and Shepard make a nice couple, and both give effective performances. The movie is at its best showing the Ivys and their reactions to problems.
In the first third of the movie, Jewell is almost always shown fixing food—a realistic detail all homemaker/mothers can appreciate. For the most part, the characters' reactions to the disruption of this happy domesticity are realistic and dramatically effective. Everyone is a little short on compassion for Gil, though. Especially since we're shown no evidence that the difficulties are more his fault than anyone else's.
Moviegoers with more experience of rural life than I will respond to this movie differently. I was fascinated by its look at different lifestyle, but uncomfortable with its politics. A little more background would have helped to make the Ivys' case stronger and the bureaucrats' weaker. Or vice versa. As it is, Country left me a little fuzzy.
October 31, 1984