Days of Heaven Reviews
Anyways, moving on. This film is set in 1916 and follows a manual laborer named Bill (Richard Gere) who, after hitting and killing his boss at a Chicago steel mill, goes on the run with his kid sister Linda (Linda Manz) and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams). To dispel any sort of gossip, Bill and Abby decide to masquerade as brtoher and sister. The trio end up in the Texas panhandle where, along with a bunch of other hobos and itinerant workers, they get jobs working for a shy wealthy unnamed farmer (Sam Shepard) who is dying of some unnamed disease.
Bill hatches a scheme to cash in on the farmer's fortune to help get the trio permenantly out of poverty, but things get compicated as a love triangle develops and it becomes harder and harder to conceal Bill and Abby's true relationship.
Storywise, that's pretty much it. It's in the execution of things though where this film really shines. The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and may just be one of the most beautiful and greatest shot films of all time. It was shot during specific hours of the day, and the results are phenomenal. The visuals are very stunning and look like something straight out of a classic American rural landscape painting or something. The film is also a fairly easy one to sit through. It's not that long ,and, even though the film unfolds slightly gradually, it never drags and none of the shots really linger all that long. The music is also quite nice as well. Morricone's score is wonderful, and does an excellent job of doing variations on Saint-Saens's "The Aquarium".
This is a really nice and absorbing romantic drama. Yeah it has shades of conventional plot points and ideas, but I think what really sells it on a story point is how all of the narration is done by Linda, presenting a very mature and adult story through the perspective of a detached and weary girl. Good stuff. The performances are nicely understated as well, and it seems weird to think that a (now) big name like Gere's could fit into something like this and not really stick out. Besides the visuals, the real highlight for me probably has to be the locust swarm sequence: that's just awesome and I love how it all comes together and can be both taken at face value and seen as symbolic.
All in all, this is lyrical, poetic, and brilliant stuff. Plenty of films came out in the 70s that were visually arresting and moving, but this one basically takes the cake. Hats way off.
"Your eyes... Your ears... Your sense... will be overwhelmed."
Days of Heaven is a film of just sheer beauty. Every single shot is the definition of beautiful. This, like all of Malick's films, will not be appreciated by the casual film goer. Malick's movies are for film buffs, and even some of them can't stand his slow, methodical, visual style. There's nothing here that leaps out at you or in anyway should be exciting. Yet, if you're a fan of Malick's style, there is so much to appreciate. The film is an endless trove of dazzling images. Not one shot of this movie was looked over. All the care in the world was put into each and every one, and it shows.
If you know Malick, you know that story isn't always the most important thing. In Days of Heaven, there is a story though. A steel worker accidentally kills a man and flees to the country with his little sister and his girlfriend, who he tells people is his sister. He starts working for a rich man, who sees and falls in love with his "sister." So they can get out from under their poverty, he allows her to marry the rich man(who is also dying) so that they can get a piece of his fortune. I really like the story, but in the end it just really doesn't matter. If you watch this movie, it shouldn't be for the story, but once again for the beauty of it.
The film is absorbing, mesmerizing, and is a visual masterpiece. It still isn't my favorite film from Malick, but it is one I really appreciate watching. Watching a Malick film has a feeling all its own. It's like watching a Kubrick film. Their so undeniably well made, yet they will be hated by many. It's not a film of pure entertainment and I can see why and how that could turn a lot of people off to it, but I just loved it.
This film has the cinematography of a fantastic matiesse painting. The story is calm and its characters are calmer. The general atmosphere can only be described as surreal. A one of a kind film!
The movie hinges on this implausible and unnecessary lie as well as other must-happens. Abby has to be free to marry The Farmer and ultimately gain his inheritance. The Farmer has to live longer than expected. Abby has to develop feelings for The Farmer but keep deliberately oblique about them to Bill. Bill and Abby have to be careless about their stolen kisses. The Farmer has to go into a jealous rage and start a freakin' fire. Bill has to kill The Farmer. The story is just too easy.
(Update: I have had time to digest this film a little more and I am now starting to believe in Malick's divinity.)
On a side note, I'm pretty sure I had no idea Richard Gere was ever that young. No really.
Days is in 1916 and follows Richard Gere's Bill as he accidentally kills the foreman at the steel mill where he works. He goes on the run with his young sister (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brook Adams) and they end up working as seasonal laborers for a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard) who takes a liking to Abby. Bill advises Abby to get closer to the farmer once they learn he is dying of an unspecified disease. They marry but the plan begins to fall apart as the farmer's healthy doesn't disintegrate and the farm foreman begins to suspect their plot. Feelings change and biblical plagues befall that rancher and everything ends in tragedy. But films plot is not it's strength, its poetic imagery is.
The film's straight forward narrative is secondary to its gorgeous cinematography. Nestor Almendros (along Haskell Wexler, who filmed over half the film but was only credited with "additional photography" and denied his rightful Oscar) photography the film using mostly naturally light, giving the film an organic, dream-like quality that befits it's elliptical pacing. Shepard's farm seems boundless; with waves of amber covering every surface. The entire film was only shot at "golden hour", the brief time of day when the set is just about to set and the quality of light is at it's absolute best for filming. This stylistic chose alienated most of the film's crew and caused the film to go hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, effectively ending the relationship between director Malick and 70's super producer Bert Schneider, who mortgaged his home to see the film completed.
The film's troubles went past its filming and into its post production. The film took two years to edit and so exhausted Malick that he didn't make another film for more than twenty years; 1998's underwhelming remake The Thin Red Line. Malick reportedly found the film hard to shape into coherence until it occurred to him to remove most of the films dialog and replace it with a running commentary by Manz's character; whose musings are often at odds with what's happening on screen. It gives the picture a hallucinatory feel that is utterly transfixing.
I was lucky enough to see the film in its full 35mm glory but Blu-ray is the next best thing. The film has been painstaking transferred to the digital format by the hard working folks of the Criterion Collection company; who also include a interviews with Shepard, Gere, Wexler and a few other members of the film's production staff and booklet containing an essay by critic Adrian Martin. You will be hard pressed to ever find a film this visually stunning on the shelves and owe it to yourselves to see this bona-fide masterpiece.
In addition to the look of Malick's film, I was struck by the performance and narration of young Linda Manz. It is from her point of view that the story is told. Manz's odd accent lends an unexpected credence to the premise of a Texas wheat farm populated with migrant field hands. It sounds perfectly out of place, just as it should. I don't know if director Terrence Malick had her particular dialect in mind when casting the part or if it was some sort of happy accident, but either way it adds an air of authenticity to the entire picture.
Manz doesn't carry the movie all by herself. She's assisted by the capable talents of some solid performers, including Sam Shepard, Robert Wilke and the beautiful Brooke Adams (see also the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
Beautiful cinematography, a talented cast and the haunting voice of little miss Linda Manz all combine to make Days of Heaven an unforgettable motion picture. 4 1/2 stars.
The film is ponderously slow. This was the intention. Director Terrence Malick used pause to convey that the characters think. Too many actors rattle off their lines without letting their characters think of them. It also conveys the slow pace of their lives.
And Malick allied the four main characters to the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire & Water. Bill (Richard Gere) is Fire - he is seen at first in front of the furnaces of a foundry where he works. We can see his temper is volatile. Abby (Brooke Adams) is water - in the very first shot she is scavenging(?) by a stream and she is seen against the backdrop of the river. Linda (Linda Manz) is Earth - in her narration she says that she is close to the "Oith". The Farmer (Sam Shepard) is Air - constantly tinkering with his weather vane, and his fields of wheat are often seen waving in the wind.