In 1930's Southern US, a widow and her family try to run their cotton farm with the help of a disparate group of friends.
Sally Field won her second of three Oscars for her performance in 'Places in the Heart', which finally arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in another one of their limited edition (3,000 copies only) releases. I saw this movie back during its original theatrical run in 1984, but haven't seen it since then. I remember being quite moved by the movie when it played in theaters. Does it still hold up? It does…but I have to confess that it's not nearly as emotional as I remembered. Perhaps I'm getting jaded in my old age, or perhaps I've raised my standards for film. Regardless, 'Places in the Heart' is still a pretty good flick.
There's a simplicity about Director Robert Benton's film that has to be seen to be appreciated. The movie, which Benton also wrote, is said to have come from his memories of growing up in Texas. There's an honesty to the characters here that you just don't see in a lot of movies. None of Benton's performers (least of all Oscar winner Field) are given big, showy scenes in which they can chew the scenery. Instead, everything moves along at an 'everyday' pace, so that even the harshest events (such as the death of Field's character's husband at the opening of the movie) are dealt with so matter-of-factly, that it adds a sense of realism to the proceedings.
Set in the early 1930s and during the heart of the Great Depression, Field stars as widow Edna Spalding who, as I just noted above, loses her husband in a shooting early in the film. She's left with two kids, a big house, and an even bigger mortgage, with no clue how she's going to pay the bank. Yes, in Frank Capra-ian style, Benton's story has a banker, Albert (Lane Smith), trying to convince Edna that she needs to sell her house before they foreclose on it. But in a nice twist, Smith's banker character isn't really all that evil…he's just a guy doing his job, and he even tries to help out Edna's financial situation by convincing her to rent a room to his blind brother-in-law, Will (John Malkovich).
By far the most interesting relationship in the movie is between Edna and an African-American drifter named Moses (Danny Glover), who comes into Edna's life looking for work and talks her into using her farmland to grow and sell cotton. Despite his lack of employment before meeting Edna, Moses is an intelligent guy with a lot of knowledge about farming, but that doesn't stop racism from rearing its ugly head with many of the townsfolk, including a nasty run-in late in the film with local members of the Ku Klux Klan.
In addition to Edna's story, there's a subplot involving two married couples in the film that is interesting enough for its own movie. Edna's sister, Margaret (Lindsay Crouse), is married to Wayne Lomax (Ed Harris) who is having an affair with Viola Kelsey (Amy Madigan), who is married to Wayne's best pal Buddy (Terry O'Quinn). Just by listing the four actors that play these roles, one can already guess how powerful their scenes are together. What I really enjoyed about this subplot (which Field reveals in the commentary was originally supposed to be featured as much as Edna's story, until Benton decided to put the primary focus on her) is that in most movies Wayne would be portrayed as the creepy, devious cheating spouse. He's not here. Instead, the audience actually feels bad for Wayne, as it's obvious he's in love and cares very much about two different women. He's not a bad guy. He's not a good guy. He's a just a human being.
But because Benton likes to keep his story simple (except for that last fantastic shot of the movie, which will either leave audiences in knowing appreciation or scratching their heads), the film itself seems a bit standard and never quite as deep and powerful as it might have been. There's no doubt the performances are strong, but we really only scratch the surface of what many of these characters (almost all of them quite interesting) are really about. Nevertheless, this is a notable motion picture from a great director, and worth a look if you've never seen it and most likely a purchase if you have.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Places in the Heart' arrives on Blu-ray in a clear Elite keepcase, which houses the 50GB dual-layer disc, along with an eight-page color booklet with an essay by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo about the movie. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose menu consists of the same image as on the box cover, with menu selections on the bottom left side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region free.
The biggest and best news here is that this Twilight Time release (with a transfer provided by Sony/TriStar Pictures) has very little in terms of digital manipulation evident in the picture. The movie still has a film-like quality to it, with grain evident in very shot, but never overly obtrusive. While this results in an image that can be somewhat soft looking at times, it's also a very good rendition of what the film looked like during its theatrical exhibition back in 1984.
The image isn't without a few problems, however, the most noticeable being motion jitter, which is pretty much there (if one looks closely enough) throughout the movie, although really only noticeable during the opening and closing credits. There's also a good deal of dirt and debris still on the print, although no glaring instances of serious damage or major distractions. I also noticed some slight aliasing during a number of pans during the movie, usually occurring on patterned backgrounds, such as window blinds or decorative chairs. Overall, though, the video quality is pretty good, and the color timing seems right and is consistent throughout.
Any other issues, such as banding, pixilation, excessive noise, or the like are not an issue on this release.
The primary track here is an English mono 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Depending on how one's audio system is set up, you'll either get all the audio from one center speaker or – as the case will be with most home theater setups (including my own) – the same audio will be presented through both the left and right front speakers. Obviously, with no stereo, let alone surround sound, going on here, things like immersiveness or directionality are non-existent. However, in terms of clearness and clarity, this track serves its purpose very well. The original sound mix for this film's theatrical release was mono, so once again (like with the video quality) we have a rendering close to what the theatrical exhibition must have been like.
In addition to the 1.0 lossless mono track, this Blu-ray also offers up an Isolated Music track, which is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles are also available in English SDH.
Although it didn't resonate with me the way it did back when I originally saw it, 'Places in the Heart' is still a well-made, well-acted movie that has a lot to say about humanity and the power of forgiveness. It's not a complicated film, but it's a memorable one, and certainly worth another look now that it is on Blu-ray. Recommended.