There are so many reasons I should love this little picture. It's peaceful, celebrates the dignity of work and relationships, and stars two of our most brilliant performers, Mr. Poitier & Ms. Wiest. And yet I simply found myself shaking my head time and again as the thing rolled on.
Start with the major plot device: A land developer is wanting to buy out Mr. Dearborn's land to build a shopping center. They are willing to pay FAR more than it's worth, up to $750,000! OK, fine, but WHY? Why in the world can these people not do better than this out-of-the-way, undeveloped farm land outside a small town that the developer's advance man himself refers to as "Mayberry RFD"? It makes no sense, yet the entire plot hangs on that. Not only is it never explained, it's never addressed.
And of course the advance man is snaky and, like every single character in the film, we have a full understanding of him from the moment we meet him; cardboard, two-dimensional characters abound, even the title character. Mr. Poitier does well with what he's given, but Mr. Dearborn is a riddle wrapped in an enigma etc., and one that's not very interesting or instructive. You'd figure an ageless man so well loved by so many would have something to recommend him other than his workaholic nature, but wow.
And that's another thing. The mixed messages abound in this film. The land developers are evil because they want to work his land in their way, and they will bring jobs to the small town, but that's evil; however, Mr. Dearborn's work, done with his hands and without electricity, is apparently what has given him such a long, healthy life...and yet he's been unable to touch anyone for decades. Hmm, doesn't sound so healthy after all.
Also, the advance man's name is Christian; Mr. Dearborn, his nemesis, is a carpenter. Huh?! This is all just too weird for words. I found it quite depressing. Another reviewer here commented it's a shame there aren't more movies like this and less that he/she found depressing, like "Fight Club," "American Beauty," and "A Simple Plan." While we agree about American Beauty, the other two are FAR from depressing and are MUCH better movies than this one. Apparently that other reviewer sees movies very superficially and doesn't ponder what's below the surface; when I do so, I find this odd mix of displaced hippie ideals to be thoroughly half-baked and unfocused. These people needed a new script.