#327 Days Of Heaven

(1978, Terrence Malick)

“Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around”

So, I’ve not heard of this movie. So let’s see what kind of reaction it got on release.

“The film was not warmly received on its original theatrical release, with many critics finding only the imagery worthy of praise”

Oh. Well. That’s not really the best start. Well, critics disagree all the time. Maybe it’s not all that bad? I guess I’ll have to find out for myself and hope for the best. It’ll be okay, right? Right?

So, Days Of Heaven stars Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as Bill & Abby, two lovers living in 1916. To the outside world, they present themselves as brother and sister to avoid people talking about them, and they travel across America seeking out manual work, along with Bill’s younger sister Linda (Linda Manz). While working on a wealthy landowner’s farm, the landowner (Sam Shepard) falls for Abby and asks for her hand in marriage. Due to an unspecified medical condition, the landowner is likely to die within a year, so Abby agrees to the marriage under the intention of claiming his land for herself and Bill following his death.

So, I think I agree with the critics on this one. The cinematography in this movie is absolutely beautiful. For much of the movie we get a lot of beautifully shot scenes of workers toiling in the cornfields, presenting an idyllic country lifestyle. You can almost smell the freshly cut grass and the dirt on people’s clothes.

The problem is, I also agree with the critics on their other point; there is far too much focus on the cinematography. Everything’s shot through rose-tinted glasses and filmed as if it’s a nice gentle documentary about the farming industry crossed with a video for the Texas tourist board. And this is constant by the way. Even when there is supposed to be conflict, it will be framed in the same way, often with the camera getting distracted and focusing on some lovely deer frolicking in the fields. Awww.

However, you cannot sustain a movie on shots of cute deer. Even Bambi knew this and remembered that it needed a plot or some degree of tension. Days Of Heaven feels like it actively goes out of its way to ignore its own storyline. We’ll get scene after scene of idyllic country life with everyone dancing and rolling around the corn, or doing work that’s hard but satisfying, and then suddenly the movie will have about a minute of the landowner remembering he’s in love with Abby before more frolics.

Even when things do ramp up, it feels like it’s all viewed through the eyes of a blissfully naïve child who thinks the whole thing is a bit of a lark. With Linda narrating the whole movie, this seems the likely intent, but man does it cause the movie to feel dull as hell.

Bill attempts to murder the landowner at one point, but we cut to shots of grass so much you don’t care. The wedding is shot so lovingly I can imagine it being used as an advert on a photographer’s website, despite the fact it’s supposed to have an undercurrent of menace running through it. Even the big climactic chase gets confusing because the camera is so focused on foliage that I question exactly where everyone is.

Generally, this movie is dull and I found myself feeling distracted the whole time I watched it. The only good thing I have to say about it is that at least it was mercifully short. A movie like this could have easily been stretched to an excessive three hours, but instead it’s a more sensible 90 minutes. Thank god.

So, I agree with the critics. Like an overly inbred pedigree dog, Days Of Heaven is incredibly beautiful but lacks any semblance of personality or charm.

Starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard & Linda Manz
Written by Terrence Malick
Produced by Bert & Harold Schneider
Music by Ennio Morricone & Leo Kottke
Cinematography by Nestor Almendros & Haskell Wexler
Edited by Billy Weber

Favourite Scene: Okay, I’ll admit those deer were pretty cute.
Scene That Bugged Me: Can we have some tension or sense that bad things are going down? Please? Pleaaaaase?

Watch it if: You like shots of idyllic fields with occasional breaks for a story or something
Avoid it if: You like anything else

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Posted on December 9, 2014, in 1970s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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