It’s been a while since Badlands, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick’s follow-up picture to his acclaimed debut. It wasn’t that well received upon initial release, but it has grown in stature in the years since, something that can pretty much be said about any Malick film. This one bears a great deal of resemblance to what I remember of Badlands, and at the same time, I can see how Malick’s career would evolve into the pictures he has done lately; there are seeds of them to be found all over here.
The plot is only a loose association, and indeed most of the major events are never identified or singled out, leaving a colorful smear of a film, in plot and in visuals. The aesthetic is the prime sell here; the cinematography is some of the most gorgeous to come out of the decade, and indeed this film consistently ranks on critics’ polls of the most beautiful films ever made. But just because something is beautiful visually doesn’t mean that it has substance where it matters. The story in this one is extremely flighty, even cursory; it was only with the highest level of concentration that I was even able to intuit the happenings and turns of the narrative. I was halfway through the film before I’d even realized the plot was actually moving forward, without me. It seemed that the film had no care at all for the story it was telling, or even if it got told at all, as long as the mood and aesthetic were kept intact. At the very least, Malick’s penchant for voiceover remains intact as well, which helped to keep things moving where they otherwise wouldn’t have.
This was a nice little period piece, and an interesting adventure (it was also interesting to see Richard Gere without silver hair for once). But for all it had to give, it sure didn’t take itself anywhere special; it was merely content to be, and while that can be an admirable quality, it also meant the film didn’t soar to meet any lofty expectations. Not that mine were particularly lofty, but in a book of films I apparently must see before I die, there’s an inherent expectation towards any film, and aside from the cinematography, this did nothing to meet mine. I kinda wish this had more to offer me, but it really didn’t; it just sort of petered out by the end, without even really resolving anything, not that there had been pressing questions. Still, it was very pretty to watch, so that’s at least something.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10