"Days of Heaven" DVD, Blu-ray Review

3/31/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"Days of Heaven"

Directed by Terrence Malick, Written by Malick, 89 minutes, Rated PG

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti


"Days of Heaven," released in 1978, was the last feature of Terrence Malick before his 20 year absence from directing. It also was only his second film. But looking at his most recent output, "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World," everything Malick is dealing with now is present back then.

There's little plot to speak of--this is a Malick film, after all, and the focus always is more on an aesthetic presentation. Primarily we follow three drifters--Bill (Richard Gere), his little sister Linda (Linda Manz) and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams). They've fled to work in the corn fields of the Texas panhandle after Bill accidentally killed his steel mill supervisor during an argument. One particular field they find themselves working on is owned by a wealthy young bachelor (Sam Shepard) who Bill eventually learns has some sort of terminal illness. He convinces Abby to con the rancher into marrying her, and conflicts rise as Bill and his employer compete for her affections.

The film is narrated by Bill's young sister, and like "The Thin Red Line," the narration depends on realistic expression and youthful grace, as opposed to verbosity. This poetic simplicity is something Malick tends to depend on often, and unlike "Red Line," which is narrated by about a dozen characters, "Days of Heaven" is a lot less uneven in this regard. Frequently, the soft and basic narration blends with the music (the score, composed by Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone, is quite pleasant) and soft but gorgeous visuals to create one large "visual poem," as Malick himself has expressed it.

So as a "visual poem," the film succeeds on multiple levels. The cinematography on its own is incredible, with the images of cornfields and the rancher's house sitting alone for miles coming about as close to resembling a painting as film can get. The images only improve as seasons pass--snow falls and then disappears, and flames and pests engulf the field, with armies of locusts and vast clouds of smoke becoming almost impossible to distinguish between. Malick captures destruction of different kinds in truly beautiful ways--where the film starts with one simple death, it also ends with one great one, and he shows us that while nature grows slowly, it can tear itself apart in a heartbeat. This fascination with nature and its inherent beauty and the inevitable cruelty that must come with it is perfectly conveyed here.

On the other hand, Malick's writing ranges from occasionally interesting and sweet to simply annoying. Whereas "The Thin Red Line" has too many characters to count and they all get their moments to shine, the characters here (especially Bill, the alleged main character) all seem like cardboard cutouts made to spout out Malick's melodramatic dialogue and to stand and look pretty for the camera. Sometimes that works, but a lot of the time it doesn't, and the lack of interesting characters to keep the poetic nature of the film grounded results in some really slow and idling segments.

The inconsistencies in the writing aside, the film works more often than not, thanks almost entirely to Malick and director of photography Nestor Almendros' visual sensibilities. It leads one to wonder why Malick insists on continuing to write narrative film when he could likely get his themes and "poetry" across just as easily through entirely visual means (though he has shown signs of going in that direction with his last two films, which, despite their middling reception are far better than his earlier work).

Grade: B-

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3 comments:

  1. oaxaquito2 said...

    I have enter to the ipad giveaway

  2. smiley said...

    Entered iPad giveaway.

  3. kelette said...

    I enter the iPad giveaway via Facebook on Saturday Apr 17, 2010 @ 12:15pm. I also entered via Twitter(kelette)on Sunday Apr 18, 2010 @ 1:19pm.