Movies We Like
Days of Heaven
The tale is simplicity itself: A young man (Richard Gere), his girl (Brooke Adams), and his spunky kid sister (Linda Manz) flee trouble in Chicago and find harvesting work on a wheat farm owned by a wealthy Texan (playwright-actor Sam Shepard). The couple, who are masquerading as brother and sister, learn that the farmer is terminally ill, and the young man encourages the woman to marry the farmer so that they can claim his fortune after he dies. Confusion, suspicion, disaster of near-Biblical proportions, and tragedy ensue.
Were it not for Manz’s deadpan voiceover narration, this pictorial masterwork could almost be a silent film – director Terrence Malick’s spectacular images tell the story. Shot by Nestor Almendros, who won an Oscar for his painterly cinematography (with an assist from the supremely gifted Haskell Wexler), Days of Heaven is among the most gorgeous features ever made. Filmed mostly in twilight’s “magic hour,” the film is bathed in hues of lavender and gold. It’s a rapturous visual poem that shocks the eye with its beauty.
This picture has more going for it than its looks: Malick’s lean, poignant script, Ennio Morricone’s subdued score (with a big hand from the themes of composer Camille Saint-SaÃ«ns), and affecting performances (though the captivating Manz steals the show). Days of Heaven was only Malick’s second film. It would take him two decades to make his third. If he had ended his career without completing another, this one would have sufficed. It is a glory of American filmmaking. (DVD: Criterion)
Days of Heaven won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and was nominated for 3 additional Oscars: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Sound.