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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick Richard Gere Film Review

Bill, a troubled, unemployed 1900’s steel worker (Richard Gere) travels with his girlfriend Linda (Brooke Adams) and much younger sister Abby (Linda Manz) to the south where they work as farmhands during the great depression.

Bill and Linda are lovers but they travel through life posing as brother and sister simply because, as the narrator states, “people will talk.” Because they keep their relationship a secret the terminally ill owner of the farm (Sam Shepard) lets himself fall for Linda.

Bill and Linda notice his interest and concoct a scheme where Linda marries the farm owner believing the owner will die in a year and they will inherit the farm.

Terrence Malick wrote and directed this movie. “Days of Heaven” is loaded with great scenery and intimate shots of life on the farm. The scenes of buffalo, wild horses, wolves (or was that coyote), and birds thriving among the flowing wheat fields felt like I was looking back in time. Like other Malick films such as “The Tree of Life” and “The Thin Red Line”, “Days of Heaven” is more of a visual experience than other conventionally shot films. Malik’s experimentation with close ups, camera angles and use of sweep makes this movie feel more grandiose in spite of its compact setting.

The dialog of the film felt just right too. Malick is a master of saying so much with so few words. His use of simple, of cut off conversations and passing glances can say as much as any dialog-thick Quentin Tarantino scene (which I generally enjoy too). These bites of communication amid the well shot scenery really made the film flow nicely and feel more epic (in a good way) than its one hour, 33 minute length.

The film is very well acted, the 1976 cinematography still feels fresh today, and the dialog felt just right. So what was it that bothered me about this film? For one thing I thought there was a genuine flaw in the plot that persists throughout the film. Why is it that Bill and Linda pretend to be brother in sister? Keep in mind there was no scheme in the beginning of the film between the couple to act as siblings in order to con men into marrying Linda. They decide to act as siblings because of the shame associated with living in sin doing the 1900’s. They can’t afford marriage during the depression so they put it off until better times. I’m certain a lot of people did this back then so what’s the big deal? If shame was the reason, why not simply pretend to be married? Bill and Linda look a lot more awkward standing close to each other and being affectionate as brother and sister than boyfriend and girlfriend.

The costumes won a few nominations but what was up with Gere’s hairstyle? The beginning of the movie featured many photos from this period and none of the 1900’s men had that seventies hairdo that never needed washing or combing. Gere did though. I wonder why? Was it vanity? Did Richard Gere, a genuine Hollywood playboy back then, insisted on keeping his own hairstyle for the shooting? It felt out of place.

I don’t think the film could figure out exactly what to do with the Bill’s, little sister either. Abby (Linda Mantz) seems to be perpetually separated from the other two yet she seems aware of everything going on. She narrates most of the film and seems to have an omnipotent presence inspite of the fact she is hardly around.  She develops a couple of relationships in the film that come to a dead end and add nothing to the plot. 

In spite of gaping flaws I think this film is worth seeing if you are a fan of other Malick efforts. Days of Heaven in some ways is a study in filmmaking both good and bad. Great acting, innovative camera work, solid writing with  a few plot falls to examine. Flawed and beautiful, fans of Terrence Malick will really get an idea of his creative foundations by watching this film.

I'm glad I saw it, but likely won't watch it again.



1 hr 33 minutes

I also reviewed another interesting, an Academy Award nominated Terrence Malick film, "The Tree of Life"   Click Here For My Review

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