The fields of golden wheat extend into the distance. The sky is a pale blue, the clouds, locks of red tinged with glowing orange highlights. Within the forlorn expanse of an Autumn farm in the American Heartland, hundreds of men and women work the land. High upon a hill, as a God sees his children, the farmer watches with a casual indifference. He drinks a glass of whiskey while an old man picks away at a typewriter. It is a scene common during the early years of the 20th century and one stunningly recreated in Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick's haunting and tragic period film. Malick's films are among the most beautiful ever created, and this piece, the second out of only six, is peerless, a film whose beauty and magnificence is without fault. Every shot is a painting, recreating the world of pre-WWI America in a way that has never been equaled before or since. Each costume, the works of the great Patricia Norris, is disturbingly accurate. The scenes are perfectly built by the legendary Jack Fisk, and framed in the way that only the masterful Terrence Malick can achieve. Director of Photography Nestor Almendros is at his very best, delivering shots beyond anything I have ever witnessed outside a Malick film. Every facet of Days of Heaven is perfect. It is simply one of the most beautiful films ever put to celluloid and I can't recommend the great blu ray transfer enough.
Like many other Malick films, the true joy of Days of Heaven is the visuals. But the story here is one both personal and grandiose. Bill (Richard Gere in his best role) and Abby are an unmarried couple who pretend to be brother and sister. When Bill accidentally kills a man in the coal plants of Chicago, he and Abby flee to the wheat fields of the American heartland. There they take work at a farm harvesting wheat. Working back breaking labour day in and day out, the couple, and their "sister", Linda, ache to leave the farm and make it big. But the owner of the farm has other plans for the couple. He falls in love with Abby and invites the siblings to stay on after the harvesting season, not knowing that Abby and Bill are together. Abby is unsure, but Bill learns that the farmer is set to die in a year. Wanting the remains of his fortune, Bill convinces Abby to marry the farmer. Of course things don't go as planned, and as jealousy and frustration sets in, mistakes are made. Everything is brought to a head a year later in a shocking and tragic conclusion that radiates a sort of terrible beauty and will not be soon forgotten.
Days of Heaven is a film much less blunt than Malick's recent Tree of Life, but that doesn't mean it is any less profound. Watching the film one contemplates the effects that greed can have on a man. Set over the course of a single year, the film's characters grow like the wheat in the farmer's field, and are eventually cut down by forces far beyond their control. Malick's films are divisive, with some hailing his works as the greatest in cinema's history. Other label his films as, "Pretentious, boring and a chore to watch" (Thanks IMDB forum goer). Suffice to say if you are looking for action or intensity then you won't find it here. Malick's films engage through visual splendor and through the complex themes that are woven throughout usually simplistic plots. While Days of Heaven isn't nearly as hard to watch as Tree of Life, if you are the type of person who chats on Facebook while texting your best friend, watching a movie, doing homework and contemplating what your outfit for the next day will be (ie, you are a teenager), then this movie probably isn't for you. If you enjoy letting your mind engage a piece of art in ways that don't require the shedding of blood and/or strobe lights, then this film is among the greatest I have ever encountered. Regardless of personal preference, few can argue the sheer artistry and craft that went into the making of this film. It was a joy to watch, and certainly among the most thought provoking films out there. I loved it.
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