Days of Heaven - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Days of Heaven Reviews

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Super Reviewer
February 4, 2011
Terrence Malick is at it again, perhaps making his most "Malicky" film yet. All of his usual trademarks and themes are in place, and I've come to realize that, expcept for specific plot info, all of his movies are pretty much the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps it's time for him to do something really radical, like, ya know, less Malicky.

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.
Super Reviewer
October 2, 2010
A carefully constructed and nuanced Malick film, "Days of Heaven" is, at its best, a very insightful and interesting story about two people who have nothing they truly need, but at least have each other. That myopic view of their lives is glassed over thanks to the narration from lead character Bill's (Gere) sister, Linda (Manz). The fluidity and art-house nature of the film is helped in kind by Malick's decision to shoot every scene at the magic hour during twilight and dawn, with the sun hidden behind the earth and the sky made white. This beautiful time of day is the centerpiece to the entire film, as it washes all the characters in a mild glow at all times, and lends to some breathtaking cinematography from Nestor Almendros, who was going blind at the time of shooting. Malick called on the entire cast to give performances that came natural to their characters, and the film that was weaved together as a result is really quite interesting. The story itself becomes lost time and again, and you only gain footing by watching the artsy scenes and listening to the narration. It's more a film about the bitter emotions that Bill goes through while trying to do the best for the one he loves, Abby (Adams). Bill is an explosive character, not just because of his temper, but because of his devotion to Abby. He hides her in plain sight by naming her his other sister, and has to abide by his own decision to let her marry for money. It's actually quite heartbreaking to watch him squirm under the watchful gaze of her husband (Shepherd) while knowing they may never be together again. Malick doesn't poke you in the right direction, but lets you get there with careful consideration. By the end of the film you see that everything Bill tried to keep together has splintered and floated downriver, which makes his efforts all the more poignant and sad. This is an early effort on Malick's part, and one of the more astonishingly gorgeous films to be photographed in that decade.
Super Reviewer
April 28, 2013
'Days of Heaven'. Terrence Malick's almost perfect exploration and adoration of nature, love and The American Dream. You can definitely see the origins of 'Tree of Life' and 'To the Wonder' in this, and it's much tighter in its focus too. Seeing a 35mm print made it all the more beautiful!
Super Reviewer
October 3, 2011
You could hang almost any shot of this movie on a wall and call it art. Full review later.
Super Reviewer
½ April 22, 2012
A simple and beautifully shot story of a young couple who flee from their home after steelworker Bill (Richard Gere) accidentally murders his boss and he takes his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) up work in a ranch occupied by a rich but dying farmer (Sam Shepard), who happens to fall in love with Abby, and Bill convinces her to marry the farmer so they can inherit his fortune. The sheer beauty of this film can not be denied, as director Terrence Malick has proved time and time again that he has an eye for scenery and how to shoot a film. Like "Badlands", another visually stunning and solid film, the film never soars into greatness due to its characters seeming too restrained and detached. The performances are all very good with the material the actors are giving regarding their muted characters. If only Malick had given a little more character detail, his ending would have seemed more powerful instead of sad but inescapably unmoving. With all that said, Malick remains one of my favorite directors given his incredible photography and his willingness to insert his style successfully into whatever material he decides to sink his teeth into.
Super Reviewer
April 20, 2012
Linda: Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you. 

"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.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
½ December 2, 2011
Your eyes...Your ears...Your senses...will be overwhelmed.

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!
Super Reviewer
June 25, 2011
The way Malick tells this compelling romance set in 1916 through images rather than dialogue is beautifully executed. His direction combined with superb performances, gorgeous cinematography and Ennio Morricone's brilliant score make Days of Heaven one of the best films of the 70s for me.
Super Reviewer
½ June 14, 2011
Why do Bill and Abby tell everyone they're brother and sister instead of lovers? Linda says it's because "people talk," but it's evident that people talk more when they see how inappropriately intimate Bill and Abby are.

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.
Super Reviewer
March 30, 2011
Terrence Malick's 1978 Days of Heaven is a masterstroke of visual storytelling. While the story and acting are both very strong, this film would most likely not stand the test of time if it were not for the extraordinary hands involved. While I am not fully convinced of Malick's divinity as some critics are, his direction in this film is awe-inspiring. The elements seem to bend to Malick's will and what his camera captures is truly breath taking. Ennio Morricone (well known for his Leone scores) brings together an atmospheric score that is equal parts enchanting and foreboding. While there could have been changes made to the script to capitalize more on the tension that Malick builds throughout the film, this fault is not significant enough to damage a film in which most of the visuals stir you to the very core of your being.

(Update: I have had time to digest this film a little more and I am now starting to believe in Malick's divinity.)
Super Reviewer
½ May 26, 2011
Obviously, Days of Heaven is one of the most beautifully shot and executed films ever made. Like the rest of Malick's work, it plays very slow with very little dialogue (except for the narration, of course). Actors play out their characters without actually saying anything and I think that's mostly where the power of Malick's work comes from. Set in a beautiful world with, at times, ambiguous thoughts of the characters seen on screen. You can read a lot into it and make your own story in a way. Looking at it today, I'm reminded of the terrible Hallmark movies that are in constant rotation on that network. I'm not saying that this is what this is, but those movies feel very much like this film - in style, story, and look. I think this is a gorgeous film, and for that alone, it gets a high rating.
Super Reviewer
March 28, 2011
I think "Days of Heaven" should be remembered for it's visuals rather than it's story. The way Terrence Malick chooses to tell this simple story is odd. On one side, you can see narrative techniques emerging that he will later use in "The Thin Red Line" (in terms of voice over and exposition). But on the other side the actual narrative is so fractured that it's hard to keep up with the emotions the characters are feeling. They always seem to be one step a head, which is not a good thing. Still, "Days of Heaven" is great for it's themes of nature and human emotions colliding (again, something developed further in "The Thin Red Line") and that insanely gorgeous cinematography. Ultimately, what makes "Days of Heaven" worthwhile are the performances. They solidify the images and the themes, regardless of the narrative being left behind. I think for this films storytelling shortcomings, "Days of Heaven" proves that Malick is quite the craftsman.
Super Reviewer
March 14, 2011
As it's been said before, this is one of the most beautifully shot movies ever made. Even if you feel that the story itself is lacking, which I personally don't, the visual presentation is completely worth a viewing. Terrence Malick is a director that I've had to grow to love. Once you understand his style and what he's trying to say, it's hard to say he's not a genius and visual mastermind. Now there's nothing fancy about Days of Heaven, no special effects or elaborate set pieces. However, that's what makes it so beautiful. There's so much beauty in nature that there's no need for anything else. This is probably one of the greatest representations of American landscape in that it's so naturalistic and sets a mood that is completely unique. Now as far as acting, plot and characters go, everything is pretty flawless. If there's ever one movie that Richard Gere did that won't piss someone off, it's this. I personally really like him as an actor and basically everything I've seen him in. Sam Shephard's supporting role is great and his character is one of the most interesting parts of the entire movie. Brooke Adams also gives one of her select performances in this, it's really a shame she never did much in her career. The story, much like the visuals, is very particular to American culture and the mindset of the early 1900s. For me, this is the most easy to enjoy in Malick's very small library and just as deep as his more epic ventures.
Super Reviewer
November 20, 2010
I must say the shots were as beautiful as I'd heard about. The New York accents were something else entirely. Oddly painful, really. And I think everyone should know you don't watch Malick for hot, fast and sexy stories. You watch for human truths and beauty. And this delivered that. Rich and gorgeous shots. Masterful.
On a side note, I'm pretty sure I had no idea Richard Gere was ever that young. No really.
Super Reviewer
½ October 2, 2010
A poetic, painterly masterpiece, you get the feeling watching Days of Heaven that nothing you'll ever see again will live up to its sheer visual beauty. Every frame is like a painting, bursting with color, the compositions thoughtful and energetic and even. Malick's fusion of pastoral simplicity with tales of inexpressible human emotion serve him just as well the second time around; instead of exploring sociopathy as in Badlands, here he quietly dwells on the nature of love, both its transience and power. What I really like about his movies is the freedom his characters have to behave in ways that can be challenging to understand. The environments they operate in are so simple that a discerning viewer should be able to take away the meaning of each of their actions, and Malick's consistent, clear characterizations enhance this further. It's like watching bacteria interact in a petrie dish, scrutinized in a controlled environment without fear of outside interaction. His cast is also to thank for their excellent contributions (yes, even Gere, who I've made no secret about disliking), but the hand pulling the puppet strings is eternally apparent. Work as laser-precise as Malick's is often highly manipulated, and I imagine that his films are assembled with a firm grip. I would be very interested to learn more about his directorial techniques, which I think puts me squarely in New Fanboy territory. I can't wait to watch The Thin Red Line, and I even want to give The New World another shot, because hell, the man's a genius and in having previously denied this I was clearly wrong. This is an American essential.
Super Reviewer
September 30, 2010
I'd like to start by stating that this is possibly one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. Every shot is a work of art and cinematographer Nestor Almendros rightfully earned his Oscar. Days of Heaven is a simple story but the way director Terrence Malick chose to tell it drove me absolutely crazy. I applaud his choice to not go the conventional route, but each scene's dialogue consisting of a fraction of a conversation compounded with Linda Manz's maddening narration kind of killed it for me. The performances/characters were negligible and honestly, Malick could've made a movie about an insurance salesman's convention and as long as he threw these visuals in I probably would feel the same way. If There Will Be Blood were (more of) a chick flick, this is what you'd end up with.
Super Reviewer
½ January 24, 2007
as with anything malick does, this film is far more about its visual story telling than its dialogue or character development. im usually a huge fan of character development, but with a malick film it becomes excusable because the landscapes and cinematography are so exceptional. there are so many framable stills in this film, and even with the limited dialogue we have enough of a story here to embrace. the short running time helps the viewer to not become stagnate, and if youre willing to soak a movie in rather than be enthralled by its plot than this visual epic is perfect.
Mario M.
Super Reviewer
July 14, 2010
Terrence Malick's 1978 film Days of Heaven is one of the most beautiful ever made. It is a lyrical, meditative piece. It has sparse dialog and a plot that is so thin it's almost non-existent. The film's tone and oblique characterization with a detached narration delivered by a character who is far only tangentially involved in the story. It was released yesterday on Blu-ray and as opposed to star studded, big budget TV movies like The Blind Side, it warrants the dazzling visual clarity that is standard for the High Definition format.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 19, 2009
Watching this film is akin to watching a Louvre painting spring to life. I was, at least at first, so in awe of the landscapes that I lost track of the story. Every frame is a work of art.

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.
Super Reviewer
March 30, 2007
Exquisite mood-piece about a turbulent love triangle set against midwestern wheat harvests at the turn of the century.
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.
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