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USA 1978
Directed by
Terrence Malick
94 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Days Of Heaven

Days Of Heaven is a relatively simple story about a trio of itinerants, Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams), lovers who pretend to be brother and sister, and Bill's sister, Linda (Linda Manz), who at the time of WWI roll up on a farm in Texas owned by an unnamed man (Sam Shepard). He is young and rich but dying and when he falls in love with Abby, Bill convinces her to marry him. Bill doesn't die as expected and tragedy ensues.

This might sound the stuff of high drama but Malick tells it very simply, letting the marvellous cinematography of Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler speak volumes (Almendros, who was going blind at the time, won an Oscar for this film, however, Wexler who is credited for "additional photography." claims to have shot more than half of the film).

Not long into filming, Malick threw out the shooting script and filmed for a close to a year allowing the actors to "find the story" for the film. He then spent two whole years editing the result. It is ironic that this eminently cinematic approach has led to the film being under-appreciated as unengaging.  However it is precisely the sense of larger things at work that makes the film so hauntingly effective, as small mean actions destroy grand ideals. Malick presents this not as morality play but simply as the workings of human nature. Here the narration by the young Linda Manz who observes what is going on works extremely well to carry off this matter-of-factness.

A young Richard Gere is perhaps not the best choice of actor for the role, seeming a little too smooth to be the hot-head he is supposed to be despite having adopted a dumbed-down accent. (Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman both turned down the role not that either would have been more suitable, whilst, probably mercifully, John Travolta actually had the role for while but could not get a release from his Welcome Back, Kotter contract). Sam Shepard however is in his element as the reticent wheat-belt farmer. Ennio Morricone yet again provides a empathetic score

FYI:  This was the first film to utilize a new Eastman ultra light-sensitive stock negative which enabled clarified images to be shot at dawn, at dusk and into the night.

The film's title is a reference to Deuteronomy 11:21 - "That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them as the days of heaven upon the earth."

 

 

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