Heartland (1979) Poster

(1979)

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A lost gem
Zen Bones10 November 2001
This is a beautiful film, reminiscent of Terence Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN. Conchatta Ferrell (a sadly underrated actress) plays a widow with a young daughter who moves to Wyoming for a job as a rancher's housekeeper. The house is little more than a two-room shack, and the rancher must work his fingers to the bone in order to survive. There's no heavy drama here, despite the fact that the two get married and try to survive a devastating winter. All the action and dialogue is subtle and honest. Yet the characterizations are more powerful than any film with a dozen writers, mainly because Ferrell and Rip Torn (an amazing actor) are so naturally earthy and mature. You never get a sense that their dialogue was written for them (maybe it wasn't!). Every shot seems natural, and every detail is brought to life with genuine care. And there are images of landscapes, people and animals (particularly a starving horse, and an incredible finale on the farm, which I will not give away) that I will remember forever. Search this one out!!
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Another solid effort by Pearce
cinecarl28 September 2004
Director Richard Pearce has a knack for finding small tightly- crafted stories and keeping them confined to their natural surroundings and letting smart casting choices take over the work and create something magical. He's done it with "Country" and "Family Thing" and maybe never better than with "Heartland." Of course, Rip Torn is a fine actor and well-suited to the role of a farmer, but the amazing turn by Farrell in the lead is not any easy part. She is quite remarkable in this film, and it's maddening why she wasn't utilized more by other directors. (She shows up often in stereotypical parts, like the secretary in "Erin Brokovich") A shame this commanding actress isn't recognized more for this fantastic performance.
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8/10
Superb; improves with age
mfisher45219 March 2006
I saw Heartland when it was first released in 1980 and I have just seen it again. It improves with age. Heartland is not just for lovers of "indie" films. At a time when most American films are little more than cynical attempts to make money with CGI, pyrotechnics, and/or vulgarity, Heartland holds up as a slice of American history. It is also a reminder of how spoiled most of us modern, urbanized Americans are.

Nothing in this film is overstated or stagey. No one declaims any Hollywood movie speeches. The actors really inhabit their roles. This really feels like a "small" film but really it is bigger than most multizillion-dollar Hollywood productions.

The film is based on the lives of real people. In 1910, Elinore Randall (Conchata Ferrell, who has never done anything better than this), a widow with a 7-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom), is living in Denver but wants more opportunities. She advertises for a position as housekeeper. The ad is answered by Clyde Stewart (Rip Torn, one of our most under-appreciated actors), a Scots-born rancher, himself a widower, with a homestead outside of Burnt Fork, Wyoming. Elinore accepts the position (seven dollars a week!) and moves up to Wyoming with her daughter. She and her daughter move into Stewart's tiny house on the property. It is rolling, treeless rangeland, a place of endless vistas where the silence is broken only by the sounds made by these people and their animals. It's guaranteed to make a person feel small. The three characters go for long periods without seeing another human soul. What is worse, Stewart turns out to be taciturn to the point of being almost silent. "I can't talk to the man," Elinore complains to Grandma Landauer. "You'd better learn before winter," replies Grandma. Grandma (Lilia Skala) is one of the only two other characters who are seen more than fleetingly. She came out to Wyoming from Germany with her husband many years before and runs her ranch alone now that she is also widowed. Grandma is their nearest neighbor (and the local midwife) and still she lives ten miles away! The other supporting character is Jack the hired hand (Barry Primus).

Elinore's routine (and her employer's) is one of endless, backbreaking labor, where there are no modern conveniences and where everything must be made, fixed or done by hand. This is the real meat of the film: Watching the ordinary life of these ranchers as they struggle against nature to wrest a living from the land. But despite the constant toil and fatigue, Elinore is always looking for other opportunities. She learns that the tract adjacent to Stewart's is unclaimed. Impulsively, she files a claim on the property (twelve dollars, or almost two weeks' pay!), meaning that if she lives on it (and she must actually live there) and works it for ten years, she will get the deed to it. Naturally, Stewart learns what she has done. With merciless logic, he points out that with no money, no livestock, no credit, and no assets, she has no chance of succeeding. He then offers a solution: He proposes marriage. The stunned Elinore realizes that this is the only real alternative, and accepts.

We think that Stewart's proposal is purely Machiavellian---he wants the land and the free labor---but we see that, in fact, he is genuinely fond of Elinore, and they grow together as a couple. She becomes pregnant; she goes into labor in the middle of a midwinter blizzard; Clyde travels for hours on horseback through the storm the ten miles to Grandma's and the ten miles back, only to announce that Grandma wasn't there. This is more like real life than is pleasant, folks. Elinore has the baby all by herself, with no help whatsoever. Their son is still an infant when he gets sick and dies. They lose half their livestock to the vicious winter. They struggle on. The last sequence in the film is supposed to be optimistic: The birth of a calf. Clyde calls Elinore urgently to help him deliver the calf. Instead of being head first, the calf is in a footling breech presentation. He and Elinore must physically pull the calf out of the birth canal. There is no CGI, animatronics, trickery, fakery or special effects: What you see is what happened, folks: A calf is born on a bed of straw in a wooden barn by lamplight. With that, the film does not so much end as simply stop, leaving the viewer unsatisfied, but after a while you appreciate the film as a whole, not just for its ending.

This little gem rewards patience and thoughtfulness. It will be watchable long after most of the films of the last generation have long been forgotten.
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Interesting adaptation of an Arcadian vision
henryfields1 April 2004
Heartland is based on the letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart collected in Letters of a Woman Homesteader. For anyone who is familiar with both works, it is obvious that while the initial subject matter is the same, the intentions of each are vastly different.

If you are looking for the sweet, Arcadian version of life as an American homesteader, then read Letters. However, if you want to see a brutally honest picture of what it takes to make it on the frontier, then watch Heartland. Each has its own appeal. Letters and Heartland are wonderful works, and are highly recommended for any student of the American West.
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Women surviving in the American west
Paul Jordan-Smith5 June 2005
This is a first-rate film, based on the letters of its heroine, Elinore Pruitt Stewart (and published in the book Letters of a Woman Homesteader, in print 2003), supplemented with material gathered from other frontier families. The film follows the life of a widow with a young daughter who arrives in Wyoming (in actual life, Colorado) in 1910 to serve as housekeeper for a rancher. The film is inconclusive, as it should be: this isn't a story so much as a slice of life. And what a life! Regardless of whether the character represents Elinore's true nature, this is a wonderful woman: strong, self-determining, and courageous. She's not your usual impossibly slender, pretty young thing--Hollywood seems to think mere wisps could survive these hardships and keep their Mary Kay contact visiting regularly--but a sturdy and practical woman who never flinches at what life throws at her. One scene to watch for (among many): taking down clothes from the clothesline. I won't give the game away, but Elinore Stewart was one hell of a human being. I'd have felt honored to know her.
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10/10
One of the best films - accurate American history
hbfreeb27 December 2004
This is one of the best films ever made. It is a realistic depiction of rural ranching life which was a big part of American History. The setting is 1906 Wyoming where life had not changed much since the previous century. The film keeps your interest without the added Hollywood myths. The whole family can see this movie and be intrigued about how life was like in America when it was mostly a rural nation. With this film, you will escape the present and witness the daily life of 100 years ago. In a beautiful, scenic environment you will see the hard physical work that was required to survive, as well as the constant worries and concerns of the elements and the market pressures that will make a difference between success or failure. See this movie and experience life as it was for most of our nation's history. This film is worth your time to see. My only question is - why aren't there more films like this one?
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Great scenery, well drawn characters
Movie_Man 50014 February 2002
What more do you need from a movie? Nice slice of Americana is brutal at times but a rewarding film experience. Compares to some of the pain staking, carefully detailed epics of George Stevens (of Giant fame.)Can't get any better than the 2 strong leads. Torn and Ferrell are amazing. Maybe because as one reviewer stated, they don't even appear to be reciting dialogue. Definitely an overlooked jewel, waiting to be discovered on video.
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10/10
A fine movie, worthy of more note.
shadowcity1121114 June 2006
I saw the latter half of this movie about a year ago and was very happy to finally find it available on DVD. Recently, I watched several of the reality series on PBS about ranching, etc. None of them came as close to telling the story as this movie does. Based on REAL reality, pulling no punches, bleak, happy, tragic and enlightening, this is a movie that should be shown to students or to anyone interested in early frontier life. Fine acting on the part of both Rip Torn and Conchata Ferrell add to an well done script. The opening credit states that it was done though funds supplied through the National Endowment for the Humanities. If this is the kind of product taxes could go to I would be happy to see more. I highly recommend it and would encourage people to tell a friend if you have seen it and enjoyed the film.
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10/10
Gritty, moving, and true portrayal of pioneer ranch life on the Western plains with an emphasis on the woman's role.
richardbentz22 November 2003
Excellent. Gritty and true portrayal of pioneer ranch life on the Western plains with an emphasis on the woman's role and place. A moving film, lovingly made, and based on real people and their actual experiences. Low budget, independent film; never made any money. Definitely not the romanticized, unrealistic Hollywood version of pioneer life.
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9/10
Stark realism and great acting
Jim23 May 2003
Portrays the day to day stark reality of survival on a ranch in the old west. Outstanding acting by both principal actors. This doesn't even feel like a movie...you feel like you're there. Animal activists should beware...many scenes are obviously not just realistic...they are real.
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9/10
Realism!
Chazzzzz16 February 2000
This western is done in a different manner than most others. Realism is the key here. Conchata Farrell comes to Wyoming to work for Rip Torn on his ranch. How this is presented makes for a most interesting slice of Americana. I would have preferred to see this on the big screen rather than on tape, but it's worth a look to see just how life was back in the real west. Cinematography is excellent. Solid 9. Torn & Farrell excel in this movie.
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10/10
Phenomenal and as close to reality as a film can get!
Gunn17 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I love this movie and have seen it quite a few times over the years. It does get better with every viewing. I agree with all of the positive reviews here. Yes, it's gritty and brutally realistic as life on the prairie was in those days. I found myself doing commentary as I watched it. Someone on here said Rip Torn was miscast. I couldn't disagree more. He is brilliant as the dour, miserly Clyde Stewart who says little and works like a slave/workhorse. Conchatta Farrell is fantastic as the widowed Elinor, whom Clyde hires as a housekeeper/cook (along with her 7 old daughter). Lilia Skala is excellent as distant neighbor called grandma. Also a star is the stark Montana prairie. It is both beautiful and brutal country in which to settle. There are some scenes that are both repulsive and necessary. No special effects here, what you see is real! It even has a terrificly perfect music score and a great script. Once you see Heartland, you'll never forget it. It deserves all the 10s it gets here.
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10/10
great movie
LeslieC92321 March 2008
This is a movie that should be seen by everyone if you want to see great acting. Mr. Torn and Ms Farrel do an outstanding job. I think they should have it on TV again so a new audience can enjoy it. Wonderful performances.

It gives you a real feel of what the pioneers had to go through both physically and emotionally. Great unheard of movie.

It was done when Ms. Farrel was very young. I had always thought of her as a comedian, but this certainly is not a comedy and she is just wonderful. There is very little dialogs, but that just make it seem more real. Mr. Torn as always is a great presence and just his breathing has great feeling. I must see movie.
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10/10
The real west
Ritag231 January 2008
"Heartland" is a wonderful depiction of what it was really like to live on the frontier. The hard work and individual strength that were needed to survive the hardships of the climate and the lack of medical care are blended with the camaraderie and the interdependence of the settlers. The drama was especially meaningful because the story is based on the diaries of real people whose descendants still live there. It was also nice to see the west inhabited by real people. No one was glamorous or looked as if they had just spent a session with the makeup or costume department. Conchatta Ferrell is just wonderful. She is an example of the strong, persevering people who came to Wyoming in the early 20th century and let no hardship stand in their way of a new life in a new land.
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10/10
One of my top ten favorite movies
janice14325 December 2007
Fabulous actors, beautiful scenery, stark reality. I won't elaborate on all of the other reviewers' comments because you get the picture! However, the movie isn't for the squeamish. Reality is slaughtering pigs and other livestock in order to survive. I also have Elinore Randall Stewart's homestead book. I read it several years ago, I have to reread it, since I just watched the newly-released, remastered DVD of the movie.

I tried to buy the video for several years, finally bought it used from a video store that went out of business. But Yippee! The DVD is now for sale, I purchased it on amazon.com. Not cheap, but well worth it to me. This is a movie I will be watching until the end of my days!
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10/10
Music
phillipsm49 October 2009
Haven't seen the film since first released, but it was memorable. Performances by Rip Torn and Conchata Farrell were superb, photography excellent, moving story line and everything else about it was of the highest standard. Yet it seems to have been pretty much forgotten

Maybe because UK is an odd market for it but I haven't seen the film on TV or video, which is sad. Has it had more success in US where it might rightly be seen as a quite accurate historical drama?

Always reckon that 50% of a good film is the music and though I'm not certain I think the title theme was a simple but moving clarinet solo of "What a friend we have in Jesus". The film then went on to disprove that! Am I right or wrong?
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10/10
Not Hollywood Gloss
cjorgensen-34 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this 25 years ago on PBS. It was very difficult to watch. So real. To watch this small family struggle in the winter was heart rending. No time for courting: fate has thrown us together and we put our shoulders to the grindstone and make it work. This was based on the woman's actual diary, which I read many years later. She said in her diary that her parents died when she was little and all their bothers and sisters had to work the farm to feed themselves. She learned to mow, which was not lady-like. She was afraid that no prince charming would want a woman with sun-browned, calloused hands, but this husband was so happy that his new wife knew how to mow, and she was happy to do it. Both were widowed and together they worked to build a new home. It was so, so sad when the baby died. Of course, if they had it today, I am sure it would have been fine. That only makes the tragedy extra sad. I was crying so hard. But then they went out and successfully pulled out a new calf. Spring is on its way, and life goes on. In her diary, she did have two more boys and they lived.
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8/10
Low budget Gem
dboard912 April 2006
Heartland was in production about the same time as Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate - Heartland cost a fraction to make but is 10 times the piece of film.

Heaven's Gate was "the biggest and most expensive ($40 mil in 1980!) Hollywood flops of all time, its failure resulted in the sale of the United Artists studio to MGM" -imdb entry

Heartland cost a few hundred thousand dollars and benefits from great writing, direction, photography and acting. It easily draws you into the beauty, joys, hardships and sorrow of pioneer life.

It's sad that Hollywood sometimes would pour millions into turkeys (based on a director's single big hit) and neglect such a wonderful story.
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Elinore Pruitt Stewart
lucyandfinn12 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Before I ever saw Heartland, I read Elinore Pruitt Stewart's "Letters of a Woman Homesteader." Her letters portray a woman of insight and intelligence, and a much gentle demeanor than that portrayed in the movie.

The movie was produced by the Wilderness Women and the National Endowment for the Arts. You can see the contribution by the Wilderness Women. Just awesome.

The music was spot on. Elinore and her daughter Jerrine go to live with Clyde Stewart on his ranch, Elinore as his housekeeper. The scene where she washes clothes and hangs them on the line made my hands hurt! Elinore befriends Grandma, a German woman several miles from their ranch, and the local midwife. There are several scenes that are quite wonderful, the cow roundup and picnic. The pig slaughter is just what they would have done to have meat for the winter.

Then winter sets in and then reality is right there. The married Stewart's child is born and has died. There is no feed for the cattle. An emaciated horse comes to the house and is turned away.

The Stewarts decide to give up, but then a new calf is born. A new beginning. They decide to go on.

Beautiful movie, from beginning to end. The DVD is glorious.
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10/10
For lovers of simple stories convincingly told
bandw19 April 2016
This story takes place in 1910 on a ranch near Burntfork, Wyoming, a small town in southwestern Wyoming. Elinore Pruitt (Conchata Ferrell), a strong, adventurous young woman traveled from Colorado with her daughter to Burntfork to be the housekeeper of one Clyde Stewart. Clyde was a tough, taciturn rancher who was not without personal appeal. He is played here by Rip Torn in a role that he inhabits--an outstanding performance. There are also strong performances by minor characters: a hired hand, Jack (Barry Primus); a hardened old German homesteader, Mrs. Landauer (Lilia Skala); Pruitt's daughter, Jerrine (Megan Folsom).

The movie details the events from Pruitt's arrival in the spring to the following spring. The events are so realistically presented that I came away feeling that I knew these people and what it was like to live in that place at that time. It was not a place for the weak willed or those averse to hard work. A large part of the movie concentrates on what a triumph it was to just survive a harsh Wyoming winter. Any homesteader meeting the requirements for land ownership (completing five years of continuous residence, for example) deserved their land.

I was impressed with the apparent authenticity of the story and later I was not surprised to find that this is based on Elinore's book (still in print), "Letters of a Woman Homesteader."

The open landscapes (this was filmed in Montana) played a significant role. I had to wonder what, beyond the will to live, fueled these people to persist in spite of hardship and I think an appreciation of the land had to be a part of it. The reserved filming and score are an appropriate match for the material. The final freeze-frame in the barn provided a particularly satisfying ending to the story of Elinore and Clyde. The background scenes under the end credits should not be missed. The people who made this movie were fully engaged and functioning at the peak of their talents.

I came away from this movie with admiration for the characters portrayed-- for their mental and physical toughness and their ability to meet life head on.
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5/10
A valiant effort with a lot of promise - much of it left unfulfilled.
Steve Skafte29 April 2010
There's few films in recent memory that I've anticipated seeing more than "Heartland". It has a lot going for it. The director, Richard Pearce, would go on to create four similarly quiet dramas of high caliber - Threshold, Country, The Long Walk Home and A Family Thing. Whereas the high points of all three later films were the great performances, this film is ultimately buried by a complete lack of the very same thing. Why is this? The leads themselves (Torn and Ferrell) aren't bad actors. The script, though uncomplicated, isn't unworkable. Perhaps it has something to do with Pearce's lack of experience at this point. "Heartland" was, after all, his first feature film. Despite any effort to the contrary, a huge majority of the dialogue is delivered poorly, overstated, or overacted.

There are good points. Fred Murphy's cinematography, while not truly spectacular, is extremely lonely and beautiful at points. "Heartland" is at its best when the focus shifts to the scenery, the quiet moments, the simple human interactions - more with their world than with each other. The complete failure of the cast to really feel at home leaves this film feeling cold and anemic. I wanted something heartwrenching and pure like "Days of Heaven" or Pearce's own best film "Country". Instead, I was left with something distant, listless and ultimately, aimless.
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"MMMMMMMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOO", says the cow.
Andy (film-critic)13 August 2005
I realize that living in the Western Plains of Wyoming during the 1900s was brutal, in fact, it probably is still brutal today, but was it monumental enough to transform into a seemingly "made-for-TV" movie? Also, women's rights were still budding in this nation during this time, so to find an independent woman determined to start fresh in this harsh territory, and still show the realism of the era … would it make for good viewing? Honestly, I don't know. I have thought about this film for the past two days, and I still can't seem to muster the strength to say that it was a horrible film, yet I can truthfully tell you that it wasn't the greatest I have ever seen. From several hodgepodge styles of acting, to two mismatched actors playing devoid of emotion character, to some of the most gruesome PG rated scenes to ever come out of late 70s cinema, it is hard to fully get a good grasp on Heartland. Was it good? Was it bad? That may be up for you to view and decide yourself, but until then, here are moments I enjoyed and desperately hated!

This film continues to be a struggle in my mind because there were some very interesting scenes. Scenes where I wasn't sure what the director was doing or which direction he was headed, but somehow still seemed to work well as a whole. I thought the story as a whole was a very interesting, historical tale. I do not know much about living in Wyoming, especially during the early 1900s, so this film captured that image in my mind. The thought of very cold winters, no neighbors for miles upon miles, and this Polaroid-esquire view untouched by corporate America. It was refreshing to witness and sheer breathtaking to experience (though the television). There were scenes that really stood out in my mind, like the cattle-branding scene, the pig slaughtering scene, and the saddening homesteader that didn't survive their journey, that just brought a true sense of realism to this story. Director Richard Pearce did a great job of bringing the view of Wyoming to the viewers, but I am not sure he brought decent players to accompany the view.

While I will constantly compliment the scenery of this film, I had trouble coping with the actors that seemingly walked on the set and read their lines from cards on the side. Rip Torn seemed out of place in his role as Clyde Stewart, a loner that somehow finds a connection with Conchata Ferrell's Elinore Randall. The two as actors have no chemistry at all. Their scenes that they share together are pointless and honestly void of any emotion. The pregnancy scene nearly had me in stitches because of the way these two "veteran" actors portrayed it. The brave Elinore does what she has to do to get the child out of her, while Clyde gives an approving nod when she is done. This is love? Was it supposed to be love? I don't know, I think with stronger characters we would have seen a stronger bond, but with Torn and Ferrell, it felt like two actors just playing their parts. Other scenes that just seemed to struggle in my mind were ones like when the frozen horse "knocks" on the door for food or shelter, the constantly fading and growing compassion that Clyde had for Elinore's daughter (I just didn't believe it), the lack of true winter struggle, and the entire land scene. The land scene especially because I needed more explanation on what Elinore was doing, why she was doing it, and why Clyde would build her a house if they were married! It was these simple events that if taken the time to explore, would have made for a stronger film.

Overall, I will go middle of the road with this feature. There were definitely elements that should have been explored deeper, such as the relationship between these two strangers and the ultimate homesteading goals of Elinore, but they were countered with some beautiful scenes of our nation. These panoramic scenes which, in the span of 100 years, have changes from vast mountains to enormous skyscrapers. While there were some brilliant scenes of realism (starring cattle and pigs), I just felt as if we needed more. Depth was a key element lacking in this film, which was overshadowed by marginal acting and a diminishing story. Pearce could have dove deeper into this untapped world, but instead left open loopholes and clichéd Western characters. Ferrell carried her own, but Torn was completely miscast. Decent for a viewing, but will not be picked up again by me.

Grade: ** out of *****
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5/10
A widow takes a job for a rancher in Wyoming.
ltlacey17 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As far as portraying actual life events as a rancher or farmer in the early 1900s, this movie does a fairly decent job. Wyoming can be harsh; summer and winter, and the movie shows us just how so. Stock dies. Children die. Neighbors (though miles away), die. The story revolves around a young widow with a daughter who accepts a job as a housekeeper for a rancher in Wyoming, in the year 1910. So far, so good. This was quite common back then. But where this movie falls down is that scenes seem to be cut short, sort of reminding me of some dance move or musical phrase not completed. And in one scene the 2 are talking about how they will be neighbors, as the woman has bought herself a homestead and plans to leave after her year is up, but in the next scene they are getting married. Did I miss something? Maybe there was a segue scene that had been cut out when the movie was put on DVD. But what really was not believable was the physical characteristics of the 2 main people. Not to say that Torn or Ferrell are not fine actors, but both are a tad hefty, especially Ferrell, and it's hard to not notice that someone who works literally 24/7, and with not a lot of food, is that fat. Do a little reading on what it was like back then, and the only Fat Cats were those who were very rich, and did not do much all day because they had servants.
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1/10
Horrible Movie--Try the Book Instead
amanda-armstrong4 November 2004
When converting a book to film, it is generally a good idea to keep at least some of the author's intended tone or conveyed concepts, rather than ignoring the author altogether. While it is clear that the director had access to and went on the advice of Elinore Stewart's children, it is key to note that the children believed their mother to be a complete liar in regards to the good, enriching, strengthening experiences of homesteading her land. The book details her life on her and her husband's adjoining homesteads in the vast Wyoming frontier; she chronicles daily adventures with her numerous friends and acquaintances, though they lived dozens of miles apart. The film, however, takes a standard stance for the time it was made, portraying this woman's experience as harsh, unforgiving, and nearly pointless. Perhaps the director was bringing some of his Vietnam War experiences with him to this movie (as some film aficionados have said), but it seems to be a lousy excuse for taking all the joy and beauty of the book and twisting it into a bleak, odious landscape devoid of friends or hope. Don't waste your time with this movie; read the book instead.
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1/10
disgusting
travelingnome3 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most disgusting films I have ever seen. I wanted to vomit after watching it. I saw this movie in my American History class and the purpose was to see an incite on the life of a farmer in the West during the late 1800's. What we saw were pigs being shot and then slaughtered, human birth, branding. Oh and at the end there was a live birth of a calf and let me tell you that the birth itself wasn't too bad, but the numerous fluids that came out drove most people in my class to the bathroom. The story itself was OK. The premise of the story is a widow and her daughter and they move to the west to be a house keeper of this cowboy. They live a life of hardship and it is an interesting a pretty accurate view of life in the West during the late 1800's. But if you have a choice, do not see this movie.
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