Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Places in the Heart

"Places in the Heart" (Robert Benton, 1984) Robert Benton's distillation of life growing up in Waxahachie, Texas during the Depression begins with an accidental death, which expands to an act of evil, but ends, after Earthly trials, with an ambiguous epiphany that extends the simple gift of community into an expression of spiritual healing and harmony--one of the gutsiest segues from hard-scrabble reality to the Mystery of Faith ever put to film.

The cast is impeccable with unsentimental work from
Sally Field, to pitch-perfect early performances from Danny Glover and John Malkovich, to excellent work by Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Lindsay Crouse. All portray an extended family that forgo the boundaries of blood and race to pull together and survive the deprivations of Nature and man.

Sure sounds like heavy stuff, but the artists behind and in front of the camera make it compelling drama that stays clear-eyed and rarely sinks into easy sentimentality. Quite the opposite; Glover plays the role of a poor share-cropper with a tentativeness that awaits disaster, and Malkovich makes his blind war vet a petulant jerk. Plus, there's a collection of townsfolk that includes greedy bankers, murderous racists and opportunists of every stripe. In "
To Kill a Mockingbird," racism seems like bad manners and poor up-bringing, while in "Places in the Heart" it's a way of life and charity is the exception, rather than the norm.

It's a story of perserverence in the face of great change, and, if not welcoming and embracing change, at least having the grit to roll with it. It's one of my favorite films from a fine film director.

And that ending. Gets me every time.

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