Days of Heaven (1978) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
235 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
In A Class By Itself
ccthemovieman-126 October 2005
This is truly a unique movie: in a class by itself. I had that opinion the first time I saw it on VHS and still feel the same way years later. It's been at the top of my list of favorite movies since I began compiling a list over a decade ago.

It's very dream-like, surreal, a film I never get tired of watching and I've watched this film more than any other in my large collection. If I had to pin it down to two reasons why, it would be the video and the audio.

The cinematography alone makes this movie worth watching repeatedly. Now that we all have access to a widescreen DVD version of this, the scenes are even more breathtaking. (I never had the pleasure of seeing this in a movie theater.)

The same superlatives can be used when discussing the soundtrack, a haunting music score that gets better and better each time one views this film. In fact, lately it's the music more than anything else I miss when I go periods without viewing this film.

The story is a simple one and is explained by others here. No need to repeat it. I find the narration to be unique, an unusual insight into the characters of the film and the thoughts of the little girl (Linda Manz), who does the narrating. The characters that continually fascinate me are Brooke Adams, as the lead female, and Robert J. Wilke, as the farm foreman. I guess it's their faces that intrigue me. Adams' down-turned mouth and sad look and Wilke's wrinklies catch my attention every time.

The story is interesting, generally low-key but with a few quick violent scenes that are quite memorable. More than that, one gets an incredible feel for the land and for the migrant workers of that time period. Another nice aspect of this film is the very small amount of profanity. Kids probably would be bored with this film but at least I wouldn't be afraid to show it to them.

But as many pluses as the story boasts, that haunting music and those incredible visuals are what drive me back for more. Great, great stuff.
141 out of 186 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Truly mesmerizing.
TOMASBBloodhound31 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In merely an hour and a half, Terrence Malick does more with Days of Heaven than most directors could do in a lifetime. In this wonderful film, we see all seven deadly sins play out against one of the most incredible backdrops ever put on camera. Virtually every shot could be framed and hung on your wall as a fine piece of art. Malick even shows us he knows how to film a pheasant hunt!

The story, though at times swallowed up by the cinematography, is also pretty compelling. Richard Gere is the main focus. He plays a down-on-his-luck laborer from the dirty world of pre-WW1 industrialized Chicago. After a dispute with a foreman, which we see but don't really hear, Gere kills the man and is forced to flee the area. Along with him are his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his kid sister (Linda Manz). The three of them hop on a train, and before you know it, they all have a jobs harvesting wheat on a seemingly boundless Texas farm. The work is difficult to be sure, but once the owner of the farm (Sam Shephard) notices Adams, things take an unexpected turn. All along, Gere has told everyone that Adams is his sister rather than his girlfriend. Shephard likes Adams enough to let the three of them stay on after the harvest is done. Gere overhears the Farmer talking to a doctor in which it is apparently revealed that he has only a year to live. Gere urges Adams to marry the farmer so hopefully the three of them will get his money after he quickly passes. Adams agrees, setting the table for nothing but tragedy and betrayal.

The story is narrated by Linda Manz who plays Gere's kid sister. In her words and in her voice we hear clear evidence of just what kind of difficult lives the three of them have lived, and what a wonderful opportunity their new situation seems at first to provide. Her character is one of the most authentic that this critic has seen in a film in many years. She even has an odd beauty about her, if the camera catches her in the proper light. Notice one scene in particular when she is watching a friend jump a train and the sun is setting behind her.

Gere, Adams, and Shephard are also as good as ever. It would be so easy for their performances to get lost within the aesthetic beauty of this film, yet they stand out in well-defined characters. I don't recall us ever being told Shephard's name in the film. He's only referred to as "the farmer". Is he really dying? We can never be quite sure. Does Adams really love Gere or Shephard? Maybe. Maybe not. There is much left to the imagination about each of these characters.

Towards the end, all hell breaks loose, as you might expect. Secrets are found out, fortunes are lost, and lives are taken. The last fifteen minutes look like something out of the book of revelations, as they were most likely intended to. And for some of the characters, new lives are forged, but they are another story. And it's a story we can only imagine. Days of Heaven is a triumph on all levels. It is simply unforgettable. Certainly one of the best films this critic has seen in a long, long time.

10 of 10 stars.

The Hound.
82 out of 110 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Remembrance of Things Past
Quinoa198412 September 2008
Days of Heaven is, in fact, what its highest praisers want you to believe: awe-inspiring cinema, sometimes even mind-blowing in what can be filmed and brought forth in a beautiful, seamless mold of narrative and poetry, photographed with an eye for the prairie and fields like very few others and for the period detail. But it's also wonderful- and haunting- because it evokes what it is to look back on something and remember things vividly, clearly, with a subjectivity that is startling in its scarred interior. This is child-actor Linda Manz, her first role in what is a relatively small career, and she voices, in grungy but fine vocal, from afar at times even as she's one of the principle players.

She's the kid sister of Bill (Richard Gere, a very good if not extraordinary performance compared to others), a factory worker who kills a man by accident and runs off with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), and the three of them end up working for a farmer (Sam Shephard), and soon there's a love triangle formed wrapped around an elaborate con of Bill and Abby being brother and sister. These are just the facts, but director Terence Malick isn't after just those, but after a sad look back from a perspective of wonderment and horror and a kind of fractured innocence. It goes without saying that since it is a Malick picture one will expect the painterly landscapes of the fields, those intimate close-ups with bugs and waving fields of grass. But Malick is able to put a unique vision into the perspective of that of a little girl, who is seeing and experiencing everything as it is, not as it may be really imagined or wanting to be.

So there's a lot of interest already just in the nature of the farming on this panhandle in early 20th century. But there's just little things, little fantastic bits that stick in your mind, probably forever: the workers in the field toiling away; the black man tap-dancing by the barn; the airplane circus people coming by and showing silent films. Most notably, as well, are near biblical visions like the plague (and extinguishing by lots of fire) of locusts. And through all of the many, many beautiful shots, there's a tender and perfectly tragic love story played out with great work by Adams and a young Shepherd. Manz too, I might add, is excellent in a role that could have been mucked up by anyone else (also trumping a later future first-time performance in Malick's own The New World with the woman playing Pocahontas).

And as if the crisp eye of Malick and his DPs Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler weren't enough, there's Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack to boot. Here's a crucial part of Malick's success in translating the theme of remembrance and feeling both the moment and the mood of the whole period and characters in the film (sometimes combined): just listen to the theme of the movie, used later in movie trailers and commercials, as it reckons a nostalgic tinge for something that one can't firmly grasp but is felt deeply and without really fully knowing the whole scope. Overall, Days of Heaven is almost too good, too beautiful- it's the kind of picture that defines reputations, for better or worse. Like Malick's. A+
45 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the most haunting and beautiful films ever made
katsat27 March 2002
If any movie could be called filmed poetry, this would be it. From its first opening shot to its last frame, there is such lyricism and emotion and beauty that it almost leaves you speechless. I have not seen this movie in years, but it still affects me and I want to write about it. There is a pervading sadness to the movie, like a memory of something wonderful that could have been, that should have been, that almost was, and is all the more tragic because it was in your hands but slipped through your fingers. This is not a movie for everyone, but if you believe that film can be one of the highest forms of art, this is the film to see.
191 out of 227 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"You'd give him a flower, he'd keep it forever"
ackstasis15 August 2009
Terrence Malick is less a storyteller than a visual poet. At times, the images in 'Days of Heaven (1978)' seem too beautiful to be believed – could Mother Nature even construct such moments of magnificence at her own accord? Cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler (credited only as "additional photographer") consistently shot the film during the "magic hour" between darkness and sunrise/sunset, when the sun's radiance is missing from the sky, and so their colours have a muted presence, as though filtered through the stalks of wheat that saturate the landscape. Crucial alongside the film's photographers are composer Ennio Morricone – utilising a variation on the seventh movement ("Aquarium") in Camille Saint-Saëns's "Carnival of the Animals" suite – and a succession of sound editors, whose work brings a dreamy, ethereal edge to the vast fields of the Texas Panhandle. The film's final act, away from the wheat-fields, recalls Arthur Penn's 'Bonnie and Clyde (1967),' but otherwise Malick's style, contemplative and elegiac, is in a class of its own, more comparable perhaps to Kurosawa's 'Dersu Uzala (1975).'

Malick refuses to explore his characters' motivations. The viewer is deliberately kept at an arm's length, and Malick eschews cinema's traditional notions of narrative development. Instead, the story is told as a succession of fleeting moments, the sort that a young girl (the film's narrator, Linda Manz) might pick up through her day-to-day experiences and muted understanding of adult emotions. Note that the girl is always kept separate from the dramatic crux of the film – the love-triangle between Billy, Abby, and the Farmer – and her comprehension of events is tainted by her adolescent grasp on adult relationships and societal norms. I was reminded of Andrew Dominik's recent 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)' {another sumptuously-photographed picture}, which also refused to explore its title character, Jesse James, kept at a distance through the impartial objectivity of the historical narrator. In Malick's film, Linda's narration tells us one thing, and the viewer sees another. But one can never fully understand the complex emotions driving human behaviour, so perhaps the girl's perspective is as good as any other.

'Days of Heaven' derives its title from a passage in the Bible (Deuteronomy 11:21), and Malick's tale of jealousy and desire is suitably Biblical in nature. Essential to this allegory is an apocalyptic plague of locusts, which descend upon the wheat-fields like an army from the heavens. When the fields erupt into flame, quite literally from the broiling emotions of the film's conflicted characters, the viewer is confronted by the most intense manifestation of Hell-on- Earth since the burning village in Bondarchuk's 'War and Peace (1967).' But, interestingly, Malick here regresses on his own allegory: Judgement Day isn't the end, but rather it comes and goes. Life is driven by the inexorable march of Fate: The Farmer (Sam Shepard) is doomed to die within a year; Bill (Richard Gere) is doomed to repeat his mistakes twice over. In the film's final moments, Linda and her newfound friend embark purposelessly along the railway tracks, the tracks being a physical incarnation of Fate itself: their paths are laid down already, but we mortals can never know precisely where they lead until we get there.
26 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
You're a peripheral character in someone else's dream
SteveSkafte7 July 2011
Days of heaven is exactly what this is. The magic hour (when much of the film was shot), those moments before dawn and after dusk when everything is indirect, dreamlike, breathless, heartwaking. There's no real story, as such. Sure, there's a general plot line which should satisfy any casual viewer. This isn't, after all, a hard film to follow. It is simply that the environment is the main character as opposed to the human elements. Linda Manz's young character narrates the story sporadically, like a sleepy traveler beside the campfire telling you of half-forgotten memories, and wonderful, casual observations that will seem clearer in the morning light, but no longer worth mentioning. Her voice is halting and uncertain, belying a personality that is confident in all other respects. Other actors, good (Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard) and not-so-good (Richard Gere) blend in perfectly. Their performances are so understated that you forget they are actors playing characters. Even Richard Gere, who never learned subtlety and would never again employ it, is almost invisible here.

This is not a long film. For all its leisurely pace, ninety-six minutes is all it needs to tell its tale. Terrence Malick is out for sight and sound. There is nothing lost to unneeded expression, nothing not shared in the space in front of you. That leaves cinematographer Néstor Almendros with the freedom to photograph, to observe without opinion whatever seems to be happening most openly before him.

When I first finished watching "Days of Heaven" it felt like waking from a dream. I couldn't be sure how much time has passed. It seemed so long, but the silence was the same, and little had changed outside my window. Nothing but the heavy quiet was all around me, and I felt the desperate desire to move. Everything beneath my feet felt moving, quietly slipping past and all I had to do was put soles to earth and start walking. This is a film of photographs, images of the purest sort. Open your eyes.
44 out of 59 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Quiet passion, quiet beauty
Caledonia Twin #15 September 2000
"Days of Heaven" is a beautiful film with fantastic panoramic cinematography. It's hard to say what it is about this film that captivated me from the start. I didn't expect to enjoy it when I read about the plot. Farm workers? How could that be interesting... But oh, the haunting, heavenly silence of the fields undulating in the wind, a silence not sundered by any garish music. Everything about this film is tangible, real, alive. The dialogue is sparse, believable, the bond between Bill and Abby is one of quiet passion that needs no dramatic proclamations to fuel it. And Sam Shepard's farmer is touching. I don't use that word very often, but I'll venture it here. I have watched this film now several times, and it is a delight each time when the farmer first sees Abby. This perhaps the strongest and most believable love triangle ever put to film, and in my opinion, the most compelling.
82 out of 109 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
In the Magic Hour
MacAindrais31 July 2006
Days of Heaven (1978) ****

"Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."

This line delivered by Linda Manz in Terrence Malick's gorgeous masterpiece, 'Days of Heaven,' sums up everything you need to know about life on earth. Much of Malick's themes have been devoted to man versus nature, and the idea of perfection is not outside that realm - imperfection is the nature of mankind.

Richard Gere, in his greatest performance, plays Bill, a hot headed, lower class worker, who in a moment of mistake accidentally kills his boss in a Chicago factory. We see that the boss is hassling Bill, but we never know why, we just see faces but no distinguishable voices over the roar of the factory. Bill, his sister (Manz) and his girlfriend Abby, played by Brooke Adams, take off for the panhandle, hitching a ride on a train. Bill and Abby tell everyone that they are all brothers and sisters, because as you know, "people talk." They find work on a farm owned by the rich farmer, played by Sam Shepard. Many other films would make the farmer the bad guy, giving him trade mark heel characteristics, but Shepard's farmer, who we learn is dying, is soulful, and yearning for love. He see's Abby, and is interested, and eventually will ask her to stay - after Bill hears the doctor tell him he has about a year to live. They decide to stay, and after some persuasion from Bill, Abby will marry the dying farmer so that they can be heir to his fortune. Suspicions arise, and hearts and lives are broken, and the Days of Heaven will come to a halting end.

The cinematography is some of the most breathtaking ever captured on film. 'Days of Heaven' could even considered a masterpiece for its aesthetic beauty alone, if the story were not so terrific. Everything about the film is magnificent. Ennio Morricone's score is haunting and beautiful. You will remember it forever, along with Linda Manz' unforgettable narration, likely one of the greatest voice overs in film history. Many have criticized Malick's distancing techniques and muted emotions. We are always kept at arms length away. But these people don't realize that the story is a memory, a memory from the real main character - Linda. Also, in a method that Robert Bresson used, by distancing us emotionally, it leaves us to add our own emotions and imaginations in the story, heightening the power of the film, as long as you are willing not to be spoon-fed what to think.

Terrence Malick is a filmmaker who came out of nowhere with his talents already fulfilled, and he has not stopped since. His films are filled with such heartbreaking beauty and symbolism, and he is one of the few living filmmakers who truly are creating art, rather than just entertainment. He had one of the greatest debuts ever, in the mesmerizing and haunting 'Badlands,' the deepest and most philosophical 'The Thin Red Line,' which is likely the greatest contemporary war film (as suggested by the late Gene Siskel)and the stunningly beautiful 'The New World.' His films are deep and meaningful, and to get into the underlying symbolism and themes of them here would be pointless, and better saved for a long essay.

Days of Heaven is one of the greatest, and most beautiful films ever made. Cinema is at a low point recently, but as long as Terrence Malick is still making films, we still have some heavenly art to look forward to.

PS - Hopefully someone like Criterion will create a new DVD, as the current one has some soundtrack problems. Imagine seeing it restored, visually and audibly.
60 out of 83 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Healing and Cathartic
SanTropez_Couch10 February 2003
Oh, I better come out and say it: I love Terrence Malick. I think he's one of the few filmmakers who has completely and utterly captured filmic form. "The Thin Red Line" was, to me, an astonishing experience; beautiful, horrific and the best movie of the 90s. "Badlands" is the best lovers-on-the-lam movie I've ever seen (it certainly makes "True Romance" look like a gimmicky fraud of a movie). Malick somehow manages to make everything seem painfully beautiful: his landscape, his actors, his dialogue. There's something always elegiac about his movies.

There's a picture of James Dean I saw from his youth -- a baseball team photo -- and the caption said something about how it captured his face, and in it, wisdom and sadness far beyond his years. That's what Malick does in his films and particularly in this film.

He must have been a fan of James Dean (probably one of the reasons he chose to make "Badlands," as a sort of homage), but not in the sense that coolness comes from a perfectly combed coiffure, a red leather jacket (which it wasn't -- it was a windbreaker) and a dark brood. There's a similar story here to that of "Giant," set on a farm with that remarkable house, two men and one girl. Only "Giant" didn't have a philosophizing and very strange little girl. It was also an overblown soap opera and while this film is, I guess, a melodrama, it certainly isn't melodramatic.

If Malick is anyone in the film, he's Sam Shapard; watching his love through a lens. Malick uses Manz as a sort of channel. If this is indeed some fashion of his own story, Malick tells us through her, with he visualized by Shepard, which is a somewhat brilliant approach. Manz is strangely philosophical; at once blunt and abstract. The story is obviously centered around her -- I don't see why this wouldn't be obvious -- but she's pushed into the background, commenting on the characters and informing us like God from above.

As always with Malick, his film is mesmerizing and hypnotic. I was surprised that the film was only a little over an hour-and-a-half. The great Ennio Morricone created a wonderful score for this film that seems to forebode impending doom. Unlike his more famous spaghetti western scores, it's never overly-flamboyant. And the cinematography, listed as belonging to Nestor Almendros, but well-known to be at least substantially contributed to by Haskell Wexler, is so much like an oil painting that it's just about liquid film. I'd be willing to pay a lot of money to see this one on the big screen.

It might seem obvious to state that this film is a transition between "Badlands" and "The Thin Red Line," after all it was the middle film. But this film has moments, especially in the finale, that are surprisingly close to that of "Badlands" and this is the film where Malick fully mastered his approach of lush, visual poetry told at a languid pace that never seems boring, since you're fully within the film;s grasp.

Pauline Kael said in her review that "the film is an empty Christmas tree: you can hang all your dumb metaphors on it." And Charles Taylor, always following Kael's lead (even from beyond the grave), said of Malick's two 1970s films, "Next to the work of Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma and Mazursky from that period, they're pallid jokes."

What never fails to get me furious is when someone viciously attacks a director, like Malick, for being self-indulgent. Of course it's self-indulgent, he's telling a story that means something to him and trying to share what he feels with us. Malick certainly isn't trying to alienate people, and if you are alienated by his films, well, don't watch them. Malick is a filmmaker like Kubrick, but more fluid and much less abrasive. I mean, if you're going to aggressively attack a filmmaker, aggressively attack someone who is aggressive on his side. Directors like Malick use abstractions to engage their audiences more fully than most. By leaving things -- often feelings -- open to interpretation, the film becomes more intimate.

Certainly one of the most enduring films from the 70s, this is a masterwork.

128 out of 177 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Up there with Casablanca & Citizen Kane
rustyk-51 March 2005
I can understand why Malick didn't make another movie after he made Days of Heaven. The film was panned by the majority of the critics who could only find the cinematography worthy of praise. However, Malick was hugely misunderstood by these dumb critics.

They complain that the film is ponderously slow. This was the intention. Malick used pause to convey that the characters think. Too many actors rattle off their lines without letting their characters think of them. It also conveys the slow pace of their lives.

Critics complain that the characters are too remote - one feels removed from them and can't get involved. Hello! It is narrated by a 13 yr old and is essentially her view of the events that transpired. Naturally she does not grasp most of the more adult moments between them and thus is herself removed from being fully involved in Bill and Abby's relationship and that is what has to come across.

Then Malick, in a moment of genius, allied the four main characters to the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire & Water. Bill is Fire - he is seen at first in front of the furnaces of a foundry where he works. We can see his temper is volatile. Abby is water - in the very first shot she is scavenging(?) by a stream and she is seen against the backdrop of the river. Linda is Earth - In her narration she says that she is close to the "Oith". The Farmer is Air - constantly tinkering with his weather vane, and his fields of wheat are often seen waving in the wind.

All in all a severely mies-judged film and the critics owe Malick a huge apology. The work is pure genius!
210 out of 270 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Absolutely wonderful
TheLittleSongbird10 July 2011
I like Terrence Malick, I appreciate his style, I love his films. I adore Days of Heaven, for me it is perhaps my second favourite of his films with Thin Red Line just beating it.

The pace as is the case with Malick, I'd go as far to say it is a characteristic of his, is meditative, but deliberately so I think. I don't see it as a problem, in fact I think the pacing added to the film, it made us care for the characters and story more.

The film succeeded with that. The characters are those we empathise with, and the story is probably the most beautiful in tone and in development of all Malick's movies. The score is also beautiful and of haunting quality, and again as is the case with Malick the visuals are breathtaking particularly in the cinematography and scenery.

Also I don't think that Malick's direction has been as poetic as it has been here, that's not saying much though he is a very poetic and ambitious director, or that lead actor Richard Gere has been any better than he is in Days of Heaven. Overall, a wonderful film. 10/10 Bethany Cox
11 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
I guess Terrence Malick just isn't for me.
atk923 May 2014
My first exposure that I had to Terrence Malick was Badlands. While apparently every critic (and the overwhelming majority of IMDb reviewers) would say that this was a good choice to introduce me to one of the greatest filmmakers, I found the dialog awkward and strange. The actual film, while very effective of capturing the beauty of nature (a staple of Malick movies as I later found out) was not all that great. Still, it had a plot and characters with discernible motives, so I was able to somewhat reason away what I personally thought was a bizarre and pretentious style of making films. Probably the biggest reason I can give a pass to Badlands is that it gave Martin Sheen, one of my favorite actors, a boost into big Hollywood films. I was then told by a friend that I should give Malick another chance, and either Days of Heaven or Thin Red Line would be a good idea for my second film. Needless to say, after sitting through this, I probably will not be getting around to another Malick movie any time soon.

I should point out that there are several aspects of this movie that are excellent. As with Badlands, the cinematography, musical score, and setting are absolutely beautiful. If all of the dialog and scenes with actual people in the frame were removed, I might actually love this movie. What I'm trying to say is if Terrence Malick made a documentary for National Geographic, I would definitely watch it.

The dialog, much like Badlands, is absolutely awful. I don't find entire conversations conveyed through facial expressions, staring, and minimalistic bombastic sentences to be good storytelling. The narration is no better, and managed to annoy me more than anything else. This leads to a fundamental problem of the movie, the dialog and narration is so bad, that I am not able to really understand or relate to the characters. Why do they do what they do? What are there personalities? I don't know. This causes me to not care about them, or what happens to them.

Another problem is when a scene develops, occasionally the camera cuts to nature, or just moves on to another scene with the characters all together. This got so bad that my brother literally called a cutaway before it happened. As a scene was developing that implied sex was about to happen, my brother said, "Huh. I bet its gonna cut to rain or something right before anything physical actually happens." Guess what? Right when something physical was about to happen, it cut to rain falling on leaves. The cuts in this movie are predictably bad.

This movie being pretentious is just my opinion. I am of the belief that characters and character interactions are more important than setting or scenery, and it is obvious that Malick does not share this philosophy, and this means that I probably will never like a movie that he makes. Most will call this good film, and I simply cannot agree with that. This movie is barely 90 minutes but I would rather watch Gettysburg than watch this again. I wanted to like this movie, and that may be why my reaction is so strong. I do not want to try to take away the joy that some moviegoers get from watching this movie, and in the end can only hope that we can agree to disagree about Malick films.
45 out of 64 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Very slow and very deliberate.
planktonrules18 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Days of Heaven" is a film that you need to have a lot of patience in order to watch. That's because this Terrence Malick film is very slow to unfold and made with a very deliberate pace. Many who NEED a film to move at a more 'Hollywoodized' pace will clearly give up on the movie--as the first half hour or so is very slow. Now I am NOT saying it's bad--just very slow. However, the film also is quite beautiful and is well worth your time if you are patient.

The film is set around 1916-1917. A trio of migrant farm workers (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Linda Manz) travel as brother and sisters--though they actually are not related. Their existence is very tough and very drab and Gere especially wants a better life. So, when the rich owner of one of the farms on which they are working (Sam Shepard) begins to show interest in Adams, Gere encourages her to marry him--even though Gere and Adams are actually lovers. Why? Because Gere overheard the owner and a doctor talking--and the man only has about a year to live. Gere figures that after a year, the three of them will own the place--and the marriage is a small price to pay. However, something goes wrong--Shepard does NOT die and a lot of tension develops on this lonely farm. And, the viewer knows it all must end in tragedy. The story is apparently based on a story by Alexander Dumas, though the original story might have been inspired by the story in Genesis of Abram and Sarai his wife in Egypt--where they pretended to be siblings and tragedy ensued.

I enjoyed this story mostly because it was well-crafted. The music was great and used "Carnival of the Animals - The Aquarium" by Camille Saint-Saëns (which was also used in "Babe"). The cinematography was also great--and conveyed a great sense of loneliness and the wide-open spaces. My only complaints are minor. Despite Malick taking years to finish this movie, there were some odd mistakes. For example, the planes in the film could NOT have been in Texas during 1916-1917 (see more in the Goofs section)--one was made much later and the other was busy blowing up Allied planes in Europe during this time (including American planes starting in 1917). I also thought the little sister character was a big mistake. Her character was not particularly needed and her narration was, at times, bizarre and distracting. And, the ending was a bit too protracted. Still, despite these minor quibbles, it was an interesting and finely made film...but also one that many people would find very slow.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Breathtakingly Gorgeous!
gab-1471218 October 2017
Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. This movie is all about visual impact and this gorgeous, haunting piece of art will leave you in awe and you will wonder how on earth did this film come out in 1978. Terrence Malick, perhaps the most elusive human being on this planet, is known as a visual director and he proves it here with his second film. The story is very simple, but the story is not supposed to be at the forefront. Apparently after several days of shooting, Malick threw away the script and told the actors to wing it. Through a long and arduous editing process, Malick was able to come up with a coherent story.

Let's talk about these visuals for a second. They are completely mesmerizing and it took people by surprise upon its release. I loved the use of natural lighting on set, which gave the film its unique colors. Malick wouldn't allow the use of artificial light much to the dismay of many people who were not used to working this style. Much of the film was created during the hour just after sunset and just before it became dark. That is really impressive. Now many of the scenes are outdoors at a Texas prairie. Some of the best shots were just seeing the wheat swaying in the wind as night was falling. Two of cinema's most impressive cinematographers worked on the movie: Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler. There was some controversy because Almendros had to leave the film after a long while due to prior commitments, but he was given the credit of the work despite Wexler being able to prove he shot more than half of the film. These visuals are complimented beautifully by the haunting score of Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest composers of all time. This combination of visuals and music created a unique form of art and something wondrous to behold.

The story is simple and relatively straightforward. The story did not become clear until the two years Malick spent in the editing room putting the film together. The film takes place right before the First World War. Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) are a couple from Chicago. After Bill kills a man at his workplace, he and Abby pose as siblings as they escape down south to find a new life. Along with Billy's little sister Linda (Linda Manz), they find employment on a Texas farm working the harvest. As they do the work, the farmer (Sam Shepard) has fallen in love with Abby. But Billy discovers the farmer is terminally ill and may only have one year left to live. Billy persuades Abby to marry the farmer so they can take advantage of the wealth after the farmer dies. But all may not go according to the plan.

Despite emphasis being placed on the visuals, I think the acting was fantastic. The actors here were mostly new to the business, but they would go on to have long careers. (Especially Richard Gere and Sam Shepard). Gere, Shepard, and Adams have fantastic chemistry with each other which is needed when there is a love triangle. I thought Linda Manz did a really fine job. The film is told from her point-of-view and she provides a haunting narration over the course of the movie. She is only a teenager, but she goes through experiences which causes her to be far more mature than her age.

Overall, Days of Heaven is a breath-taking masterpiece that allows the visuals to do its talking. This film was extremely rare for the time period it was created. With all the trouble that happened during production, it amazes me that this film is actually good. Malick had such a hard time with this film. In fact, he didn't make another film until twenty years later. That is sad because he is a talented director, and he was able to push himself over the edge to create this film. I compare this film to nature. Nature is beautiful and there is gorgeous scenery in every location of this globe. Nature can be breath-taking and that is how I feel about this film.

My Grade: A
13 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
I Must Be Missing Something Huge
socact-112 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen this movie twice, once a few years ago in college, and again this past weekend. Although I absolutely despised it the first time, I decided to give it another chance. Terrence Malick is clearly a well-respected director, and it seems that the IMDb viewers, at least, think very highly of the film. But, unfortunately, it seems my tastes haven't changed at all.

Where to start? For one thing, Linda Manz's narration is horrific. Her voice is so irritating with that horrendous New York accent (please don't try and convince me that Chicagoans talk that way - they don't). She herself admitted to just sitting down and talking about random things, which does not make her a talented actress. She's not even acting! I came on IMDb expecting to see her ripped apart, since her performance is just so utterly laughable, but people actually seemed to like it! She's simply unappealing in every way - I kept hoping Malick would just kill her off.

The other actors were fine, but certainly nothing special. Adams was probably the strongest in the cast, but she also had the only decent part. Except the old guy - he was pretty good.

Speaking of acting, how could Shepard's character be so ridiculously stupid?? He bought the "brother and sister" act because...uh, why would he buy that? Bill and Abby took every single opportunity to be touchy-feely, as though they didn't realize that their lives depended on acting in a very platonic way. It was just completely unbelievable. And finally, after a considerable amount of time, the Farmer suddenly realizes that, "Oh my god, they're together!" Then he goes after Bill with a gun, but instead seems to trip into Bill's hand and ends up with a mortal stab wound.

Speaking of which, the fate of the characters was similarly stupid (and, dare I say, lazy). Of course Bill has to die - could it be more boring than getting shot in a pond by a pack of cops? Abby goes on with her happy life, getting on a train and feeling really content about the way things worked out. And the irksome narrator randomly finds her deadbeat friend and they wander off into the sunset. But it's okay, because Malick never gave me any reason to care about the characters anyway.

As for the plot, this film drags along endlessly with no real plot twists or development. I can't believe it's only 94 minutes long - I could have sworn I was sitting in my seat for a solid 3 hours. The sudden locust disaster was like throwing the Bible in my face; I'm totally fine with metaphors and allusions, but this was completely over the top. Clearly the message was, "Don't marry for money or bad things will happen to you." Very original.

I understand that "Days of Heaven," like all of Terrence Malick's films, is meant to be a piece of art. And I will certainly agree that the cinematography is simply stunning, and the magic hour shots add a unique aura to the film. But I need more than nice pictures to enjoy a film, and this one just didn't do it for me.
128 out of 187 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Striking Beauty From the First Shot to the Last
Michael_Elliott9 December 2012
Days of Heaven (1978)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Set in Texas 1916, this Terrance Malick drama centers on poor immigrant Bill (Richard Gere) who talks the woman he loves (Brooke Adams) into marrying a dying farm owner (Sam Shepard) so that they can enjoy his money once he dies. Being a Malick film you know the "story" is actually going to be a very small part of the overall picture and like most of the director's films people are going to be put off by the slow pace and the lack of a clear story. The "lack" of a story might be the wrong word to use because there's certainly a love triangle thing going on here but Malick really doesn't center everything on this because the true beauty of the picture comes from the terrific cinematography and the beautiful images captured. I think you could take just about any Malick movie and say it's one of the greatest looking ever made and that's certainly true of this one. The Texas scenery is just so remarkable that you really do feel as if you're seeing something from the past because it's hard to believe that there was this type of beauty still around in 1978. The film offers up so many incredibly scenes starting off in the steel factory early on to the wheat fields and then there's a downright haunting sequence dealing with a fire. Malick also manages to get very strong performances from the three leads. This is especially true of Gere and Shepard as they really capture the mood and spirit of the film with their performances. There were countless great directors from this period and throughout the history of film but I think it's safe to say that very few have an eye like Malick. The visual beauty of this film is what makes it a classic and a must see.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Prairie story
Prismark109 October 2013
This is gorgeous looking film very much filmed at dusk and dawn. A film misunderstood upon its time of release and only after Terrence Malick's subsequent films can you now understand what the writer- director was aiming at.

The fact that Malick's next film emerged 20 years later we understand this is a person who wants to tell his story by visuals. Actors talking is just secondary and those scenes end up on the cutting room floor.

Days of Heaven which was shot in 70mm always had a reputation for its Cinematography which won an Oscar.

Now we can marvel at it in our homes on widescreen high definition television. You can really have those close ups of those insects. It is also a surprisingly short film, coming in at just over 90 minutes.

The tale is slight, Gere is a hothead with a girlfriend that is pretending to be his sister and his actual younger sister. They get a job whilst fleeing from Chicago in a farm in Texas where the Farmer played by Sam Shepard takes a shine to the girlfriend and marries her. Gere is aware that the Framer only has a year to live.

Apparently the film took several years to be edited and the narration from the youngest sister had to be added to make the story flow. A similar device was used by Malick in 'The Thin Red Line.'

The film might be seen as slow and maybe hard to fathom because there is relative little dialogue but as mentioned you admire the visuals and at 90 minutes it is not as slow moving as you think.

A brave beautifully crafted film.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Over rated yet mesmerizing
hhg27 December 2013
I find it interesting that such a stunning visual director can have such disdain and disinterest in plot and dialog. The cinema-photography is truly amazing and foreshadows similar efforts in the future, but the wooden direction/acting, stilted dialog, and uninteresting characters left me shrugging in disbelief. Even if Malick has little interest in such things, couldn't he have teamed up with a co-writer--even an amateur--to provide a semblance of story line? Surely even a mediocre effort in this area would drastically improve the overall film.

The movie does showcase young Richard Gere, Sam Shephard, and Brooke Adams, but they might have well been Ken and Barbie dolls, strutted on stage for their physical beauty since Malick demanded so little of them. Any acting talent would not be visible to future directors based upon what was required of them.

Certainly the film will be of interest to those who enjoy Malick's work, so there is an historical appreciation to be had. But as a movie seen for the first time, I'd suggest listening to the first 15 minutes with the sound on and then turning it off and luxuriate in the visuals. I don't think you'll miss much.
17 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Stunningly Beautiful, Timeless, Lovingly-Crafted, Rural Love Triangle Drama
ShootingShark11 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A man, a woman and his kid sister are drifting around the US midwest in the early twentieth-century. In Texas, they find work at the harvest on a wheat ranch and when the rich but dying farmer expresses his love for the woman, the man encourages her to respond to him. When the two are married and the farmer invites them all to live with him, inevitable resentment and jealousy surface ...

Although they've made a lot of westerns and costume-dramas, the Americans don't make many films about their own history which feel real and authentic - the style is often deliberately overdone (as in Jezebel or Gone With The Wind) and there are only a few movies where the filmmakers really try to capture the period (say, The Grapes Of Wrath or Matewan). Days Of Heaven is the best example I've seen of this latter style and an astonishingly unique and haunting film. The simple story is really just a framework with which Malick paints extraordinary landscapes and evocative themes - in every sense this is a timeless picture. If ever there was a showcase of how to photograph a film well, this is it; director of photography Nestor Almendros - with additional shooting by Haskell Wexler (the Chicago scenes) - creates astonishing images of the endless wheatfields and the lonely farmhouse, with incredible use of available light and colour and no diffusion filters or staged lighting. Uniquely, the filmmakers deliberately did not shoot during the normal day, but filmed mainly during the dusk magic-hour, which results in an amazing ghostly ambient feel to the visuals (for more on this, see the excellent American Film Institute documentary Visions Of Light). The long locust invasion / forest fire sequence is one of the most intense and incredible set-pieces ever put on film and my mind boggles as to how they pulled it off (nowadays of course it would all be done with computer opticals). This is one of very few movies where you can literally take any still at all and the lighting, framing and composition are just breathtaking. I'll admit I'm a photography junkie - to me, movies are about images - but if you've never really thought about how a movie is physically shot before, please watch this amazing picture. The other outstanding element of the film is the music; it is bookended by Camille Saint-Saens spine-tingling Aquarium theme from his Le Carnaval Des Animaux, but the rest is awash in a fabulous string/woodwind score by the great Ennio Morricone, one of his very best. As with many truly great pictures, the combination of the visuals and the music result in a sensory experience that lifts you into the stratosphere - it's incredible. I normally talk about actors and writers in my reviews, but here they kinda take backstage. The script is intentionally loose and archetypal (although they have names, the characters are really just Man, Woman, Farmer and Girl) and many plot points are vague; you're never sure if Gere and Adams are married, or whether Gere kills Shepard. The performances are iconic, and whilst I find Adams irresistible in all her films (particularly The Dead Zone), it's narrator Manz who actually comes off best for me; since she's not a star, she conveys the bucolic lost-in-time mood of the piece to terrific effect. Produced by Bert and Harold Schneider and featuring wonderful art direction by Jack Fisk (who has designed all Malick's films). After making this fabulous movie, writer-director Malick took a twenty-year break from cinema and moved to France to teach. This was a great shame, because he is one of the most original, creative and talented directors of all time - don't miss this breathtaking, powerful, incredibly beautiful picture.
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Liquid Abstraction
tedg27 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

de Palma invests in the eye, using the narrative as an excuse. Kubrick works at trying to create a visual counternarrative. But Malick is the most interesting, a synthesis of these. He uses the story as a framework for images -- images which create their own parallel narrative. Always underscored by the voiceover.

As a philosopher, Malick's intent comes from a specific theory of additive abstraction -- abstraction that purifies and focuses, but does not simplify, instead registers in a larger richer metaphoric context. Clarity made real by its distance from reality. Meaning through the eye. Abstraction up, not down. Same general notion Sam Shepard would get the Pulitzer for the next year.

This changes everything. Everything.

Picture a `New Yorker' cartoon where a shadowmaster casts a shadow puppet, but the light that casts the shadow is held by the puppet.

Imagine Bill imagining Abby imagining Linda imagining a world, and our images are from the farmer in that world.
11 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
days of heaven
mossgrymk28 September 2021
Welcome to the world of Terrence Mallick where the cinematography is awesome (courtesy of Nestor Almendros) and the dialogue and characters are an afterthought. How else to explain the Brooklyn accents of people supposedly hailing from Chicago? One gets the distinct impression that were this to be pointed out to Mallick he would benignly shrug, such petty concerns of characterization being of secondary or tertiary concern to Mr. Landscape. Give me Ford any day who, like all great film makers, never let his locations, no matter how majestic, dwarf his people. C plus.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Somber, well-cast, epic-scaled human drama
moonspinner5522 April 2007
Beautiful, pensive and quiet drama from revered filmmaker Terrence Malick has a complicated story involving a young man and his girlfriend during the Depression, traveling on a migrant farm workers' train along with his little sister, eventually getting jobs on a farm owned by a wealthy, dying man who has eyes for the girlfriend. Deliberately slow in pacing, though never less than lovely and evocative. A must for widescreen-viewing (or rather on the big screen, where the empty vastness--practically a character in the proceedings--can properly work its magic), the picture is well-acted by Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, and Sam Shepherd and seems deeply felt and considered. As a result, it is extremely moving. *** from ****
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
blanche-23 July 2017
Terrence Malick's masterpiece, Days of Heaven, is from 1978 and stars Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams, and Linda Manz.

People have written here about the cinematography - there's nothing I can add to it - certainly one of the most gorgeous films ever done, absolutely staggering.

The story takes place in 1916. Bill (Gere) and Abby (Adams) are boyfriend and girlfriend who pose as brother and sister. After Bill punches a man (Stuart Margolin) and he winds up dead, the two of them, along with Bill's sister Linda (Manz) travel from Chicago to the Texas panhandle looking for work.

The owner of the farm where they wind up, (Shepard) falls for Abby, and, when Bill finds out he's terminally ill, urges Abby to marry him. After the wedding, Bill and Linda stay on at the farm with Bill doing jobs around the place. Meanwhile he's meeting Abby secretly. Jealousy, impatience, and tragedy follow.

Not much dialogue to be had here - apparently Malick threw out the script and let the actors "find" the story. The three leads - were any of us ever that young? They're beautiful. All the acting is very internalized, and it works here beautifully - it's all in the facial expressions, the eyes - it could almost be a silent movie. Though it's a languid film, there is an underlying tension throughout.

The one rough spot for me was Linda Manz and her New York accent. People from Chicago do not talk like that, and in fact I had a difficult time understanding her, which made her an odd choice for the narrator. Children are naturals, they don't have any social barriers or inhibitions, so I'm never impressed by child actors though many of them are fabulous. I didn't feel that she had much to offer. Malick felt differently, and it's his movie, I just didn't think her gifts showed on screen.

This is a must-see film - haunting and atmospheric and incredibly beautiful.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Haunting and beautiful, Days of Heaven has some of the finest cinematography in film.
Amyth4725 October 2018
My Rating : 9/10

The title is from Deuteronomy 11:21:

'That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.'

A kind of poetry - 'Days of Heaven' is nature, rhythm, emotion and beauty coming together in a pervading sadness and innocence. Shot during the magic hours of twilight, it has undoubtedly some of the finest cinematography captured in film.

Not a movie for everyone though.
8 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Red_Identity30 May 2011
Days of Heaven... another Malick film, another way to express himself. One thing is for sure, it wasn't as disappointing as The thin Red Line...

This film grabbed me quick, just like Badlands and unlike The Thin Red Line. What first has to be said is the cinematography. Yeah, it's probably been said before, but it is amazing, perfect, heaven on it's own. It is probably one of the best photographed films I have ever seen, and reminds me of Deakins' work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. All of Malick's films have been visually- amazing, but this is his most yet. Also, the score- spellbinding. I thought nothing would beat Badlands' score, but this did. It also took me back to the time I first heard it in the teaser for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Now, the content- the story is simple, if not a bit conventional, but here, it didn't matter. In that it is similar to Badlands, and unlike Thin Red Line which I thought the story got overwhelming. Here is what I first experienced in Badlands, the sense of longing and the beauty that is found in the world.

Ultimately, I would say this is a great film, if not a bit too superficial at times. Neither of the three leads are on par with either Sheen or Spacek in Badlands, and the film never reaches the highs found in the first half of Badlands, but it also doesn't hit some of the bumps that the 2nd half of Badlands stumbles on. It is more consistent, and in that it ranks about the same for now.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed