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1984 was a year of domestic dramas set in rural areas with Country (1984) and The River (1984) earning Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek Best Actress nominations along with the eventual winner Sally Field giving the lead performance in Places of the Heart. This is the best of the three films in my opinion because it's anchored by strong performances from Field and John Malkovich, tasteful direction from Robert Benton and the most compelling story to tell. It appears weak when compared to A Passage to India (1984) and Amadeus (1984), two other Best Picture nominees, however it is a great example of the genre it works within and is let down only by a few unnecessary subplots and an occasional lack of dramatic tension.
Edna Spalding, Sally Field, is widowed and left to maintain the family farm as the cotton industry struggles to support farmers. In order to keep herself afloat she is forced to appease bank manager Mr. Denby, Lane Smith, by taking in his blind brother-in-law Mr. Will, John Malkovich, while she has also employed black farmhand Moses, Danny Glover, who helps her to farm the cotton. A strange subplot involves Spalding's brother-in-law Wayne Lomax, Ed Harris, who is having an affair with schoolteacher Viola Kelsey, Amy Madigan, which eventually ends when Kelsey leaves for Houston and Lomax returns to his wife. The greatest hope for the family appears to be earning the $100 bonus given to the farmer who can produce the first bale of cotton for the season and when Spalding is able to do this she keeps her farm.
I found that what I loved most about the film were the comedic moments between Field and Malkovich who have a wonderful chemistry and play characters who seem a little too wonderful to be real. One of the most entertaining moments in the film comes when an angry Mr. Will walks in on Spalding naked in the bathtub and angrily rebukes her and her children before realizing her state of undress. After this moment we see the two of them grow closer as he protects her children during a terrifying hurricane and talks to her after a hard day at work. I liked seeing a genuine friendship develop between two people who might not seem to jell initially but later find that they have support in one another when they need it.
It was the actors, Field and Malkovich, who really brought this relationship to life as they seem to really understand their characters from the inside out and to have a deep and genuine love for them. Malkovich plays blind with subtlety as he is able to give us the sense that this man has not been blind for very long, he was blinded in the war, in addition to making us cheer as he cooks or navigates his way around the farm with clever contraptions. Field has ineffable spirit in the lead role as she really sells her big monologues and instantly endears us to her character. I would have given the Academy Award for Best Actress to Judy Davis in A Passage to India (1984) but I think that Field is still a very good second place. Harris, Madigan and Lindsay Crouse are all decent in their roles but they are caught up in the extraneous section of the film which makes it difficult for me to see merit in their work.
What stops me from really admiring the film is the infidelity subplot which was an attempt to tie into the morality tale aspect of the film but ends up feeling like it should be it's own film. The odd blend of semi-erotic scenes between Harris and Madigan and tragic scenes in which we watch the two lovers betray their respective devoted spouses doesn't work. It's not that the actors are not giving it their best, they most certainly are, but the writing and the characters just aren't there for the audience to invest in them.
If you want to see something emotionally effecting that displays the impressive talents of Field and Malkovich then this is a film that you can't go wrong with, unless you hate Robert Benton's occasionally too traditional aesthetic.
The best inspiring movie ever made!
Not without some effective moments but Benton could have excised the tedious subplots and lost nothing. In fact he could have used that extra time to flesh out all three of his main characters.
One of the best (not overtly) Christian films ever made. I saw it first run in Munich, Germany, and the last scene in church (viewers, pay attention) left me so emotionally overwrought that I didn't leave the theatre until 45 minutes later.
Malkovitch's performance is very moving here; Quite stunning presence & character.
A sad yet moving film. The love sub plot distracts from the whole. A great song in "cotton eye joe" was on there.
Robert Benton's inspiringly uplifting eulogy to the resilience and compassion of the impoverished Texans of his hometown in the midst of the Great Depression and racial segregation.
Probably the finest melodrama of the 80s.
A good drama about a young mother of two during the depression who loses her husband to the recklessness of a drunk and tackles the daunting task of keeping her home from being foreclosed on by a rather heartless bank. Liked the characters and never got dull. Fine cast.
Sally Field's performance left a place in my heart along with the amazing supporting cast.