YEAR: 1984

ROLE:  "Gil" Ivy

DIRECTOR:  Richard Pearce

PREMIERE: September 29, 1984

Plot Summary

Jewell and Gil Ivy run a small farm in Iowa that has been in Jewell's family for several generations; Her father Otis lives with them, along with their three children. While the work is hard and the earnings are slim, they have been able to get by until a one-two punch threatens to devastate the Iowa farming community. First, a tornado devastates the area. Then the Farmers Home Administration calls in the loans on most of the farmers in the area, which they are in no position to repay. With thirty days to "voluntarily liquidate" their property, they, like their neighbors, are desperate to find a way to hold onto their property, and when the stress causes Gil to buckle, Jewell must step in to keep the clan going.

 
Cast

Jessica Lange as Jewell Ivy
Sam Shepard as Gilbert "Gil" Ivy
Wilford Brimley as Otis
Matt Clark as Tom McMullen
Therese Graham as Marlene Ivy
Levi L. Knebel as Carlisle Ivy
Jim Haynie as Arlon Brewer
Sandra Seacat as Louise Brewer
Alex Harvey as Fordyce
Stephanie Stacie-Poyner as Missy Ivy

 
Production Notes

"Country" had a ragged production history. Ms. Lange first got the idea for the film from a photo in a newspaper. She convinced Hal Ashby to direct, and between them they settled on William Wittliff to do the screenplay. Eventually, Ashby dropped out. The script was shopped around to every studio in Hollywood without success, despite the fact that Jessica Lange had just come off an Oscar for "Tootsie" and critical acclaim for "Frances". Eventually Disney Studios, looking for more adult products for their Touchstone Film division, picked it up. Wittliff was set to direct, but about ten days into filming, he was removed. Richard Pearce, best known for low budget, high quality independent films, replaced him.

 
Movie Stills/Posters
 
 
Reviews

Vincent Canby, NY Times:
"Mr. Shepard is incapable of giving anything less than a strong performance, but here the screenplay shortchanges his characterization. About half-way through the film, with little or no preparation, Gil Ivy falls to pieces emotionally. Because it doesn't fit with what has gone before, it seems more like an arbitrary plot device to provide Miss Lange's Jewell with the opportunity to become a 1980's earth mother, with all of the film's most important lines."

Timeout:
"A gritty examination of the way that Reaganite economics is squeezing the life out of the small farmer. Shepard is very fine as the farmer, who, with Lange as his land-owning wife, faces foreclosure by the loan company. The scenes of the hard life are becoming familiar from the downhome type of film, but what sets this one apart is the emphasis placed upon Lange, who becomes the mainstay of family and farm. It's not a comfortable film, nor even a very optimistic one, but its power lies in a very truthful depiction of the men and women that the movies tend to forget."

Roger Ebert:
"The performances are so true you feel this really is a family; we expect the quality of the acting by Lange, Shepard, and gruff old Brimley, but the surprise is Levi L. Knebel, as the son. He is so stubborn and so vulnerable, so filled with his sense of right when he tells his father what's being done wrong, that he brings the movie an almost documentary quality; this isn't acting, we feel, but eavesdropping."

Olie Coen, DVD Talk:
"The main thing they [Lange & Shepard] did right was to play their parts understated, which was smart, and which fit the mood and times better than a melodramatic interpretation. They were convincing as farmers, as Americana, and representatives of a way of life that was slowly dying. In a time when films loved focusing on social justice, and especially on farmers and workers and the like, 'Country' fit right in and its leads did it justice.

Nicholas Bell, Ioncinema:
"Lange does what she does best, transforming from sweet caregiver into ferocious she-bear, transcending the purported weakness of her husband, which is never correctly shown but rather told, despite what seems a rather capable presence from Sam Shepard."

Film critic Emmanuel Levy:
"Shot in Iowa with many real-life farmers, 'Country' opts for a realistic visual style. While the myths are grounded in specific reality, the filmís messages overwhelm in their heavy-handedness. At the end, itís unclear who the real 'villains' are. Is the film against Carter and/or Reaganís farm policies? Moreover, Gilís character remains an enigma. Accused of being a bad farmer, the film never asks to what extent the charge is valid."

Rita Kempley, Washington Post:
"Sam Shepard is opposite Lange as affable Gil Ivy, a farmer who can look a tornado dead in the eye, but whose temper can't take the test of a bureaucratic bamboozle at the FHA. He starts to shrivel in spirit, to drink, to auction off the tractors along with his wife's legacy, the land her family's tilled for a hundred years. But Shepard imbues his character with such strength that his transformation is unconvincing. At least, he's man enough to play a coward."

Variety:
"Jessica Langeís pet project took a while to get produced, but it winds up firmly on the right track, with its basic theme of the classic struggle of the working man against the forces of government...Almost overshadowed by Lange, is Sam Shepard the husband, though he gives a quietly effective portrayal of the husband dealt a humiliating blow to his pride when the farm is fingered for liquidation."

Michael Costello, All Movie Guide:
"The film's portrayal of a staunch matriarch desperately trying to hold her disintegrating family together occasionally evokes 'The Grapes of Wrath.' If the scope of its social observation and depth of characterization can hardly stand comparison with the earlier film, there are moments, such as the scene of the farm's auction, and in particular a long shot at the end of a hallway of Lange and husband Gil embracing in silhouette that John Ford himself might have appreciated. Despite having to work with characters condemned to a certain passivity, the cast does an excellent job, and Lange is at her best in a memorable, mutely expressive performance."