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For, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thirty-four years ago we had a spate of major-studio ‘save-the-farm’ flicks — ‘Places in the Heart,’ ‘The River’ and this one. And all three produced female lead performances that were nominated for Oscars (Sally Field, who won; Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange, respectively). Now Kino Lorber has upgraded ‘Country’ with a new Blu-ray release. So here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Oct. 14, 1984.

“Country,” the second in a string of save-the-farm dramas, is an astonishingly realistic depiction of the plight of the American farmer. But more than that, it is a strong tribute to the American family and its will to survive — together.

Jessica Lange stars as Jewell Ivy and Sam Shepard as her husband Gil, Iowa farmers who suddenly find themselves faced with the prospect of losing their land as yearly crop yields continually fall below expectations and needs.

The FHA, having given generous government-sponsored loans to local farmers in the past, is now beginning to foreclose on those who look like they will have difficulty paying on time. And the Ivys are next.

With their three children and her father, Otis, played by Wilford Brimley, they are struggling to make ends meet, but it has never occurred to them that there might be a chance they could lose it all.

To the Ivys, their farm is more than acreage, livestock and equipment. It’s their home, their way of life. The farm has been in Jewell’s family for more than 100 years, and she can’t bear the prospect of losing it.

Meanwhile, Gil feels like a failure, having been unable to make the land prosper, and his father-in-law is only too quick to agree. So Gil takes to consoling himself with a bottle, and he manages to alienate both his wife and his son.


                Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, 'Country'

Jewell wants to fight back, to let the government know it is not dealing strictly with commodities, but with people, people whose roots are as deeply implanted in the soil as their crops.

And the dramatic thrust of “Country,” which opens with an action sequence that serves to immediately establish the family’s intimacy, thereby involving the audience right away, takes us from despair to anger to hope.

Regarding its political overtones, “Country” is not without its critics but that won’t matter to the viewing audience. Whether or not the film’s viewpoint is one-sided, the power of its story and the empathy felt for its people are undeniable.

“Country” is powerful filmmaking, with every aspect of the collaborative medium coming together perfectly for a compact, realistic, memorable movie experience.

Lange is outstanding as Jewell Ivy, a woman who refuses to let her family and lifestyle crumble under the pressures brought on by outside forces. Shepard is equally fine, in a more low-key role that shows a man losing control, then attempting to build himself back up.

Salt Lake’s own Wilford Brimley again proves he has the patent on crotchety curmudgeon roles, and he is very affecting (particularly in the auction scene, for which you should be stocked up on Kleenex).


Newcomer Levi Knebel is quite good as the Ivy’s oldest child and is particularly believable as Shepard’s son. And all the other supporting roles seem absolutely correct.

“Country” is directed by Richard Pearce, whose “Heartland” and “Threshold” are considered modern classics by many critics, and he proves once again his unique understanding of screen characters, and his ability to convey cinematically their deepest feelings.

Beautifully photographed on location in Iowa, with a sharp, on-target script by William D. Wittliff (supposedly doctored to some degree by Shepard, who is also an award-winning playwright) and a fine score by Charles Gross, “Country” is an obvious contender for best film of the year.

Comparisons with “Places in the Heart” are inevitable, I suppose. But that film, as good as it is, is a rather sanitized heroic look at another era as remembered by its author.

“Country” is more realistic, occasionally tragic in tone, with characters who don’t always make the right choices. And it has the advantage of course, of being contemporary.

Rated PG for some violence and profanity, “Country” is a terrific film that is bound to be remembered in just about every category come Oscar time.