Sunday, September 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Country (1984) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

COUNTRY (1984), a fine film about struggling farmers, was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

I saw COUNTRY on a big screen when it was first released; I remember there were two films about farm families released close in time, the other being THE RIVER (1984) with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek. I found COUNTRY the better of the two films.

Revisiting it for the first time in decades, I still found COUNTRY a powerful and moving film, if not always an easy watch. Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, who were at the time also a couple off the screen, play Jewell and Gil Ivy, farmers struggling to stay in business on land which has been in her family for over a century.

It's a hard life, yet it also seems to be a good one for the family, which includes Jewell's father (Wilford Brimley) and their children (Levi L. Knebel, Theresa Graham, and Stephanie-Stacy Poyner). It can be dangerous, as they experience as they try to get a crop in ahead of a storm, but there is satisfaction in working together and being part of the local community. They have a warm roof over their heads, food on the table, and each other.

Then the FHA starts calling in their loans on short notice, essentially planning to remove them from their farm in a month's time with no recourse. Gil falls apart while Jewell tries to find a way out of financial disaster.

As I mentioned, it can be difficult watching the family struggle, and they're also strongly impacted by a neighbor's financial difficulty. Yet there's also great beauty to be found in the film's depiction of family and a community; the cinematography by Roger Sherman Jr. and David M. Walsh is glorious, and there's wonderful authenticity in the details, from the very 1980s fake wood office paneling to the dishes in the Ivys' kitchen.

Lange's Jewell is a force of nature, cooking and organizing the neighbors with her baby girl on her hip; anyone who's ever struggled with a serious problem will relate to her as she sits up late with a calculator or cries when she sees her children all asleep in bed together. Lange received a Best Actress nomination for the role.

Shepard is moving as a good husband and father who falls into despair and temporarily loses his way, and Brimley gives his usual fine performance, saying things out of anger himself as he watches the family farm slipping away. Young Knebel and Graham are also effective as imperfect but ultimately loving children coping with a crisis they don't really understand.

The movie was directed by Richard Pearce from a script by William D. Wittliff. It runs 105 minutes.

The cast also includes Matt Clark as an FHA employee who eventually can no longer stomach his job.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There is some bawdy discussion near the start of the film, and a character commits suicide. Ultimately there are positive themes about a family working through problems and neighbors helping neighbors.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a nice widescreen print. The disc includes the trailer and a commentary track by Lee Gambin.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

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