North Star (Sous-titres franais) [Import]
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An unusual Western, North Star trades red rocks and green cactus for a landscape of spectral white, with dogsleds instead of horses and fur instead of rawhide. But there are always bullets, bad men, and saloon brawls! Christopher Lambert (Highlander) stars as the half-Native American protagonist Hudson Saanteek, who is fighting to protect native lands from a predatory mining company led by Sean McLennon (James Caan) and his brutal right-hand man Reno (Burt Young, Rocky). While escaping from McLennon's clutches, Saanteek is forced to kidnap McLennon's mistress, Sarah (Catherine McCormack, Dangerous Beauty), launching a perilous chase through the frozen mountains of Alaska. Despite some moments of clumsy editing and a wooden performance by Lambert, North Star has some surprising virtues--the Gold Rush setting gives the movie an uncommon look (helped by some superb cinematography) and the story, though conventional, moves along effectively. Caan and Young turn in solid performances (the bad guys always get the best scenes, after all) and McCormack is lovely and vulnerable. Not a great movie, but for fans of the Western genre, this is an intriguing entry, with some visually striking sequences. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Nils Gaup, who also made the acclaimed original version of Pathfinder. --Bret Fetzer
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Christopher Lambert (1957) is best known for his "Highlander" films but personally I thought his best performance was as Tarzan in "Greystoke" (1984). To younger viewers he is best known for his work in "Mortal Combat" (1995). He won the French Oscar in 1986 for "Subway". He says "the main purpose for doing what I'm doing is the passion in the work." Lambert plays a half breed who is trying to protect the land for his clan.
James Caan (1940) is best known as Sonny Corleone, the role for which he received an Oscar nomination in 1973. Over more than 100 roles he's been nominated for a Golden Globe 4 times and for an Emmy once. From 2003 to 2007 he had his own TV series, "Las Vegas". Caan plays a greedy land owner.
You'll remember Catherine McCormack's stoic yet beautiful face from "Braveheart" (1995) where she played the doomed wife of Mel Gibson. McCormack plays Caan's girlfriend who is kidnapped by Lambert (reminiscent of "Valdez is Coming").
The marvelously funny and simultaneously tough Burt Young (1940) plays Caan's henchman.. We know him best from the "Rocky" films for which he received an Oscar nomination in 1977. Young has been in more than 100 films, including notable roles in "The Killer Elite" (1975) and "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). FWIW - Young was up for the role of Sonny Corleone, but Caan got it.
The film's director Nils Gaup (1955) won several International awards for his 1987 debut film "Pathfinder". This was his 5th film and after this film he turned his attention to TV.
Father/son screenwriters Sergio and Lorenzo Donati (1933) worked on the script. Papa Sergio gave us such memorable films as "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) and "Duck you Sucker" (1971) so you know there is a strong western background to the film. Paul Ohl from "The Highlander" films also contributed. The novel from which the film is based was the last work of Heck Allen (1912-1991) who wrote several westerns ("Mackenna's Gold", "Into the Badlands") but whose true legacy is the hilarious Tex Avery and Woody Woodpecker cartoons from the mid 40s to the mid 50s.
There aren't a lot of films about the gold rush in Alaska, even though we do have the classic 1925 "The Gold Rush" from Chaplin, John Wayne's comedy attempt "North to Alaska" (1960), and Disney's TV film "Goldrush" (1998). So I had hopes for this film. But while there is a little bit of background, the film rapidly deteriorates into a classic chase film with Caan and his baddies chasing Lambert who has kidnapped McCormack.
The photography and music are appealing, but the story has some inconsistencies and some key plot points are missing (e.g., what is the relationship between Caan and McCormack? What caused the strain between Lambert and his fellow Indians?). Basically, the film is a B western that take place in Alaska in 1899.
There's not much to recommend this film. It certainly had potential, but it fails to deliver.
The movie is not spectacular, and it has been noted by others that Lambert's acting skills are notab;y less than those of Keanu Reeves. Caan's bad guy is played annoyingly smirky, and Burt Young does nothing to expand beyond his usual generic tough guy range. That being said, there is some nice photography of the frozen northern wild which is pleasing to the eye. Speaking of which, Catherine McCormack is also pleasant to look at, though ultimately I have to admit that the story is not terribly engaging.
Directed by Norwegian Nils Gaup and filmed in Norway with a largely Norwegian cast, NORTH STAR seems to get a little preachy on the racism side of things, which I don't mind as long as there is a story to back it up. Unfortunately, this movie falls considerably short.
Jeremy W. Forstadt
I liked it.
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