Apparently a labor of love by independent director Jay Craven, WHERE THE RIVERS FLOW NORTH is an earnest but overfamiliar tale of a hard-bitten Vermonter determined to hold on to his land at any cost.
Rural Vermont, 1927. Gruff, individualistic Noel Lord (Rip Torn) ekes out a living making cedar oil with his native American housekeeper-lover, Bangor (Tantoo Cardinal). But a hydroelectric dam is under construction down river; when it's completed, Lord's small tract will be completely
submerged. Meanwhile, the power company needs Lord to shut down his small dam so workers can dry the area and pour concrete. When company flunky Wayne Quinn (Bill Raymond) offers Lord $2000 to give up his lifetime lease, Lord turns him down, saying it's wrong for a man to surrender his livelihood.
Quinn, under pressure from his bosses, increases the offer to $3000, but the fierce-looking logger chases him off at rifle-point.
Lord's rent is due, so he and Bangor ride into town to sell their cedar oil. Prices have dropped, so Lord decides to enter a "chain fight," a series of brutal, bare-fisted boxing matches. He triumphs over men half his age to win the purse. Then, ignoring Bangor's continued pleas that he take the
money and run, he marches into Quinn's office to pay the rent. When Quinn raises his bid to $5000, Lord makes a counter-offer: in exchange for his land, he'll sign a contract that will permit him to live in the forest along the water's edge--an area designated to become a public park.
It now develops that Lord has a plan. He intends to cut down a stand of pine trees, run them down the river single-handed, and sell them as lumber for $10,000; this will give him the cash he needs to buy a sawmill in Oregon. Afterwards, he'll burn down the area so no one can prove he violated
the contract. However, when he and Bangor start sawing, they discover the timber is hollow. Bangor is furious, but Lord continues undaunted, figuring the wood is still worth a pretty price. Quinn discovers Lord is logging and secures an eviction notice. Aware that time is running out, the woodsman
arranges for logging trucks to haul his load away, but a storm prevents the trucks from getting through the muddy roads. Enraged and desperate, Lord opens the gate to his dam to float the logs down river; but as the storm rages around him, he drowns. After discovering that the sawmill Lord
intended to buy was sold 10 years earlier, Bangor buries the man she loved and then burns his house down.
Given its potentially ludicrous plot and the presence of an eccentric performer like Rip Torn, WHERE THE RIVERS FLOW NORTH is surprisingly flat and lifeless. Its thematic material--basically, a set of ham-fisted antinomies about man versus nature, individual will versus common weal, "masculine"
adherence to principle versus "feminine" acquiescence--has long since been squeezed dry by some strikingly similar, if only marginally better, pictures (e.g., Jim Sheridan's THE FIELD; SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION.) This film is notable only for a lovably outlandish performance by Tantoo Cardinal, who
speaks in a nearly incomprehensible backwoods dialect, and the fact that Craven somehow persuaded Michael J. Fox and Treat Williams to make very brief appearances--which were, needless to say, touted like starring roles in the promotional material. (Adult language, violence)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Apparently a labor of love by independent director Jay Craven, WHERE THE RIVERS FLOW NORTH is an earnest but overfamiliar tale of a hard-bitten Vermonter determined to hold on to his land at any cost. Rural Vermont, 1927. Gruff, individualistic Noel Lor… (more)