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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Days of Heaven (1978)


Farming has never looked so pretty, except for when you have to shovel cow manure. Then, that’s when things start to look shitty (pun intended).

During the early 20th century when every person is just trying their hardest to make ends meet and keep that dough rollin’, two poor lovers, Bill and Abby (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams),  travel to the Texas Panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard). Because is a little bad boy, he encourages Abby to falsely-marry the farmer, for the sole reason that the dude is dying and you know what that means: bring on the riches! The plan starts to unravel for all three as real, hurtful emotions come in and people can’t control what they do, nor what they say.

In case you didn’t know, this is writer/director Terrence Malick’s second flick and it features all of his trademarks that film-goers love (and sometimes hate): beautiful visuals, over-the-head narration, sometimes incoherent story-line, and characters that you spend a lot of time just watching and waiting for them to do something. These are all good things if you love Malick and what he’s able to do with a camera. However, if you’re one of those notorious haters (and there are plenty of them); then this will most likely be a total bore-fest from beginning-to-end. For somebody that loves what Malick is usually able to do behind-the-camera; it was an amazing watch. Then again, I know there are others.

"I looooooooveee goooooold." - Terrence Malick

I looooooooveee goooooold.” – Terrence Malick

No matter what I do with the rest of this review, I know that I still have to start it all off just by mentioning one of my favorite aspects of this flick: the visuals. It pretty much goes without saying that a Malick film just oozes beauty, but this film really does considering how much time and effort it seems like he really put into these carefully-handled shots. Many of the scenes that Malick filmed, seemed as if he filmed them during the “golden hour”, which gives every single shot a big shade of gold and makes you feel like you’re actually watching these characters work their asses off in one long-ass piece of farmland. Speaking of the farmland, almost every shot in this flick has the long, sweeping farmland just laying in the background, which makes everything else surrounding it it just so damn beautiful to look at that I caught myself not even paying attention to what was going on right in front of me with these characters and this story. Instead, I just kept diverting all of my attention to the plowed land. I’m no Farmer John, but I do love a beautiful landscape, when I see one.

I don’t know what the hell goes through Malick’s head when he’s thinking about filming these types of images, but what I bet is that he just looks up and says “Hurry up! Get my camera because it’s time to film some works of beauty!” Either that, or he’s got Mother Nature on speed-dial. Regardless of what his style of filmmaking is, the guy deserves to be called an artist in every which way. Granted, he does make movies, but he makes one that are as beautiful as you’re ever going to in a artsy-fartsy museum  This is real-life, actual videos of the world around us and it will make any person, including myself, happy to know that natural-beauty still does exist out there. Not this, or this, or hell, not even this; but THIS. Okay, maybe that last one was pushing it, but you get my drift.

But even when he does try to make everything gel with the story, it still comes off as the weakest part of the whole flick. I don’t know what it is about most of Malick’s films, but his stories always end up starting out weak, then get better but with this flick it sort of just started off as mediocre and kept that same pace throughout. The love triangle did have its jumps and humps here and there, but it seemed like Malick was more concerned with the visuals and how purrty everything looked. It’s not really as terrible as it might be for some directors that don’t have as much ambition or beautiful-imagery on-display as Malick, but you can totally tell what his strong-suit is and isn’t. The story did end up surprising me by the end and I like how Malick didn’t try to reach for any big, Biblical metaphor that just makes the whole hour and 30 minutes seem like one, big allegory for the world we live in. People do bad things, they screw up, they ask for forgiveness, and then they start all over again. That’s the way people work and sometimes, how the world works. Leave it at that, and show me pretty things.

Even the insects don't like his acting all that much, either.

Even the insects don’t seem to really care for his acting all that much, either.

As many of you loyal readers probably know by now, Richard Gere is not one of my favs (even though he does represent my homeland of Philadelphia, PA) but he’s actually pretty decent here. Once again, Gere brings out that rebellious side within him to give his character some depth and also mess around with what he thinks is right and what is wrong. Nothing too amazing to write home about, but it’s still a performance that didn’t make me cringe every time he popped up on-screen, which is what plenty of his other performances have done to me in the past. Sam Shepard is also here and is good as the rich, and slowly dying farmer that you can’t help but feel bad for considering that this guy is being scammed so easily and he doesn’t even know it. Nice to see Shepard play a likable guy for once, too. Brook Adams plays Gere’s lover, Abby, and gives off a good performance even though I wish her character had more to her rather than just standing there, smiling and looking pretty. Then again, those aren’t bad to have in the first place.

Actually, the stand-out in this flick in terms of the cast, has to be Linda Manz as the factory worker’s little sister, aptly named Linda. Her performance as the little girl is pretty solid but it’s her fly-on-the-wall narration that really kept me going with this story and if it wasn’t for her, I probably would have not known just what the hell was going on. Every little line of dialogue that she speaks to the audience feels genuine, almost if she wasn’t even handed a script and Malick just told her “to talk about what you see, other than utter beauty.” Malick is always able to draw some amazing performances from his cast-members and his way with Linda is no different, which is why I think that the narration really saves the day at the end of it.

Consensus: Days of Heaven may not feature the most intriguing or compelling story that needs to be seen, but still looks like an actual painting brought to life, courtesy of the art-master himself, Terrence Malick. It also gives you a sense of what type of setting you’re in, people you’re around, and what each of them have on their minds. Also, got to give it to Malick for giving me a Richard Gere performance that didn’t bother me up to high heavens. Yay!! (There was a pun in that last sentence but I’m not even going to bother).

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Oh, Richard: being creepy as usual.

Oh, Richard: being creepy as usual.

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10 responses to “Days of Heaven (1978)

  1. ninvoid99 April 10, 2013 at 4:09 am

    This is still my favorite Malick film and it’s the one I often suggest that newbies should start with. It’s a very daring film despite its lack of plot or any idea of a conventional narrative. In fact, Malick just threw away the script and just direct the actors to do something while taking whatever he had shot and see what he could use in the editing room. It took him and Billy Weber 2 years to edit the film and what you see is that final result. Richard Gere had stated that if he had known what kind of film he was making, he would’ve saved brain cells.

  2. ckckred April 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Nice review. This is my second favorite Malick film after The Tree of Life. I agree with you on Richard Gere. He usually irritates me but he was good here.

  3. filmhipster April 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I love Terrence Malick but still haven’t seen this. I embarrassed. Great review Dan, I may have to go rent this one this weekend.

  4. Pingback: Evil Dead, 500,000 hits and Jurassic Park 3D | filmhipster

  5. Alex Withrow April 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Great review Dan. I agree that this may not contain the most compelling story, per se, but the way Malick executes it is just astonishing. Love this movie.

  6. Stephanie April 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Excellent review, Dan! I really liked this movie! As you said, the story is not all that engrossing, but visually, it’s such a unique, gorgeous work of art.

  7. The Vern April 15, 2013 at 3:48 am

    I’ve never heard of this before, but I will look for it when I have money to buy movies again. I like what you said about the natural beauty of this movie. Malick can create beautiful shots without any special effects

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