Tuesday, September 9, 2008

#62: Days of Heaven


Days of Heaven
Directed by Terrence Malick
Written by Terrence Malick
Released September 13, 1978

I'm not sure if there's an Official Dictionary of Film, but if there is, the word "Visionary" had better be followed by the name Terrence Malick. He's one of our greatest living directors, and if you've never heard of him it's probably because in the last five decades the reclusive film maker has made only four feature-length films (five if you count his upcoming Tree of Life), none of which has been hugely successful in the financial sense.

A Malick film is pretty much like nothing you've ever seen (the closest I've seen a "mainstream" film come to the look of his films was Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be Blood). They move at their own pace: ponderous, poetic and sometimes almost glacial. Nature is always a theme, and one never as powerful as his loose adaptation of The Thin Red Line, where he shows not only the toll of war on man but the natural and beautiful world around him.

Days of Heaven, which stars Richard Gere shows all of the hallmarks of a Malick film, including offscreen "narration" (more like the thoughts and inner monologues of his characters), stretches of natural soundtrack rather than dialogue, and a eye for realism. Gere plays Bill, a hotheaded laborer who travels the country with his young sister and Abby, the woman he loves, working hard jobs and trying to save money. When Bill discovers that the rich farm owner he works for (played by playwright/actor Sam Sheperd) only has a year left to live, he tries to convince Abby to play his sister, marry Sheperd's farmer and inherit his empire.

Since Malick is no Hollywood director, this is no Hollywood love triangle. There's still jealousy, longing, and betrayal (and pretty much every one of the seven deadly sins), but if you're waiting for the story to turn into some variation on Unfaithful or Indecent Proposal, don't hold your breath. When the shit hits the fan here, it's Biblical.

Days of Heaven is undeniably beautiful, a work of art, but I really can't recommend enough the haunting The Thin Red Line if you've never seen a Malick film. It's definitely the best test to see if you like his kind of film. If you enjoy it as much as I did and still do, then check out Heaven and especially his feature debut, Badlands.

For more on Days of Heaven:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the Criterion DVD.

The Days of Heaven trailer:

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