Places in the Heart (1984)
Sally's in the Cotton Field
As I watched "Places in the Heart" I was mesmerised, here is a movie with a collection of wonderful performances, some great characters and a truly wonderful storyline and you can sense that Robert Benton who not only wrote the screenplay but also directed the movie did so with great passion. But here is the thing "Places in the Heart" is an award winning movie yet in many ways it reminded me of various TV movies I have watched over the years with the storyline which can be summed up as a widow's determination not to lose everything after her husband died. It is that sort of heart warming tale but one thanks to Benton's passion has the refinement and depth which is often lacking in those made for TV movies.
In Waxahachie, Texas Edna Spalding's (Sally Field - Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again) life comes crashing down when her husband the sheriff goes to deal with a drunk local with a gun and is accidentally shot dead. And matters worsen when the bank manager shows up to inform her that money is still owing on their home and without an income she should sell up and move in with her sister. Refusing to lose her home and family she listen to Moze (Danny Glover - 2012), a coloured drifter who knocks on her door looking for work and mentions she could grow cotton on her land. Together they set about it whilst Edna also takes in Mr. Will (John Malkovich - Secretariat), the blind brother-in-law of the banker, as a boarder. They become a strange sort of family, supporting each other as they encounter various problems. Meanwhile Edna's sister has her own issue as her husband Wayne (Ed Harris) has been secretly having an affair with her married best friend Viola (Amy Madigan).
So as already mentioned "Places in the Heart" reminded me of various TV movies which I have seen over the years with a basic storyline of a widow doing what she can to hold on to what she has left of her life after her husband died. But the difference between this and those TV movies is the depth of writing because we have a variety of issues which occur from Edna suddenly having to deal with finances to becoming a cotton farmer and dealing with those who try to con her. There is also the subplot about Edna's brother-in-law having an affair and with this movie being based in the 1935 there is also racial issues. And there is plenty more which come together to create this mesmerising and touching story of a little timid house wife desperately doing what it takes to survive.
Now you can tell that Robert Benton was passionate about his story not just because it is well written but also well directed and he manages to make it heart warming without becoming sentimental. In fact "Places in the Heart" is a movie which mixes both warmth and grit to deliver some brilliant scenes from Moze having a run in with the KKK to a brilliant scene where Mr. Will walks in on Edna in the bath, oblivious to her naked state as he complains about her children. Yet at the same time all these scenes are beautifully shot and there is a simple artistry to Benton's directing so whilst we may have a scene which takes full advantage of a fabulous sky you can feel the pain in the way a character looks.
And that is the next thing which is so marvellous about "Places in the Heart" because it is full of well written characters who are all well acted be it John Malkovich's touching performance as Mr. Will to Lindsay Crouse as Margaret Lomax dealing with her cheating husband in a dignified manner. Of course at the centre of all this is Sally Field who is a major reason why it is so captivating, delivering a believable performance of a woman who not only has to deal with surviving but also taking over her husband's duties from finance to disciplining their son. And what Field's does better than anyone is transform her character, taking us on this journey as she goes from being timid to tired, naive to smart and you warm to her, in fact you warm to all the central characters as the movie goes on.
Now if I was to have one complaint it is the ending, as the ending to "Places in the Heart" is confusing and I am sure there must be some deep meaning to what we see but it leaves it very much open to interpretation. Now for me there is a religious connotation to this ending and as such I do wonder if many will get it or whether I am on the wrong track and that there is something much simpler. It certainly makes you think about the movie long after as you try to work out what the ending means.
What this all boils down to is that "Places in the Heart" is a stunning movie which takes a simple storyline and treats it with passion to deliver something which is complete and both gritty yet heart warming.
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