‘Days of Heaven’ – Richard Gere on the run on Prime Video, Paramount+ and MGM+

Decades after its original release, Days of Heaven (1978) remains one of the most beautiful films ever made.

Set in the early 20th century, it follows lovers Bill (a young Richard Gere) and Abby (a sad-faced Brooke Adams) as they flee the foundries of Chicago to the wheat fields of Texas, where they land jobs working for a young farmer (Sam Shepard in his first major screen role) who takes a shine to Abby. They’ve been posing as siblings for the journey and Bill, who overhears a doctor telling the farmer he only has a year to live, pushes Abby to return his affections. Bill, however, is too emotionally volatile to handle the jealousy that burns as he impatiently awaits for what he is sure is inevitable but somehow stretches on. He’s already fled one murder charge.

The second feature from filmmaker Terrence Malick is a delicate, impressionist drama of migrant laborers in the pre-World War I industrial economy. Bill and Abby form a kind of family unit with Bill’s real little sister Linda (Linda Manz), who also serves as our naïve narrator. She’s a child relating to us the world of adults with often piercing honesty while never really comprehending what’s really going. Her narration is at times heartbreaking.

Malick keys into the rhythms and cycles of human effort in concert with the machines of industrial-age labor. He plays entire scenes without dialogue, letting the gestures and shadowplay communicate meaning while the sounds of the world—be it the roar of a blast furnace in a sweltering foundry or the musical cacophony of birds and insects on the prairie—and Linda’s musings fill the soundtrack with counterpoint. And when the fields are overwhelmed by a plague of locusts, he begins with tiny details that build until the swarms fill the sky like storm clouds.

The images crafted by Malick and cinematographer Nestor Almendros at times evoke the visions of such American artists as Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. The manor house and the grain elevators of this wheat empire stand like monoliths watching over the unending plains and images of workers in the landscape look like impressionist paintings come to life. Almendros paints with light, using natural light for outdoor scenes and practical light sources wherever possible indoors, giving the film a feeling that is both realistic and poetic.

Days of Heaven was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Morricone’s hauntingly beautiful score with its dancing piano melody and glass harmonica backing, and won for Almendros’ cinematography. Malick won the Best Director award at Cannes and was honored as Best Director by the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Read Roger Ebert’s appreciation in his “Great Movies” series and learn about the production and backstory at the TCM website.

Rated PG

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Days of Heaven [Blu-ray]
Days of Heaven [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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