Terrence Malick’s most recent picture, The New World, ignited an online flame war early last year, but none of his four movies has been as critically divisive as 1978’s Days of Heaven, the sophomore outing after which he would take a still-unaccounted-for 20-year break from directing. Criterion’s new DVD of Days comes with so-so extras (I mean, who has use for an audio-only Richard Gere interview, anyway?) but then again, it’s hard to imagine what augmentation this piece of the sublime really needs beyond the proper transfer it has finally gotten.
Objectivity be damned: no movie has ever been shot more rapturously. With Murnau as their silent-era guidepost — and with Malick himself insisting they push the film stock’s limits — cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler worked principally at sunrise and the gloaming. The light they captured is plush and tenebrous, yet always and incredibly natural. It’s too bad you’ll be watching this at home, because you won’t get the full effect of just how frightening a close-up of a sitting locust can look across a big screen.
Days’ detractors typically cite their trouble getting past Linda Manz’s hardboiled narration, Gere’s acting (with his shoulders, noted Pauline Kael) or the flimsy love triangle plot. In the opposing corner stand Ennio Morricone’s score and Sam Shepard’s commanding screen debut as a wealthy farmer in the Texas panhandle circa 1916 (in fact, a wheat field in Alberta).
Malick spent two years in the editing room finding this masterpiece. Call it overcooked or flawed if you must, but as Gere’s character explains, “We’re all gonna be gone in a couple of years. Who’s gonna care that we acted perfect?”