Sony // 1984 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 24th, 2001
Home is where the heart is.
"You like me! You really, really like me!" Yes Sally, apparently they do. Places In The Heart was writer/director Robert Benton's cinematic love letter to his childhood hometown of Waxahachie, Texas, during the depression era of the 1930s. Benton is known for crafting well spun yarns featuring interesting and off beat characters (including Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody's Fool, and Twilight). Nominated for five Academy Awards -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (John Malkovich, Of Mice and Men), Best Supporting Actress (Lindsey Crouse, The Verdict), Best Costume Design -- and winner of two -- Best Actress (Sally field), Best Original Screenplay -- Places In The Heart brings its down home charm to DVD care of Columbia TriStar Entertainment.
Set in the 1930s, Places In The Heart revolves around Edna Spalding (Field), her struggle with unbearable hardships, and the family and friends that come and go in her life. After her husband (Ray Baker, Ed Wood) is accidentally shot dead by a drunk African American boy, Edna finds herself a young widow without any means to support her two small children. With the bank urging Edna to sell her farm, she sees no way out...until the disheveled Moze (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) shows up. Moze is a wandering African American who comes to Edna for a meal and shelter in exchange for work on her farm. It's here that Moze indulges Edna in the idea of growing cotton on her land to raise money for her bills. At the same time Margaret (Crouse) is having an adulterous affair with Wayne (Ed Harris, The Rock), who is married to Edna's sister Viola (Amy Madigan, Uncle Buck). In the middle of Edna's troubles she also takes in Mr. Will, a blind boarder (Malkovich), who at first seems obstinate, but soon warms up to the Spalding family.
In the face of loss and pain, Edna must find a way to keep her family together and her home intact against almost insurmountable odds.
I've enjoyed almost every Robert Benton movie I've seen. One of my favorite films of all time is Robert Benton's Nobody's Fool, a funny character study starring Paul Newman. Benton also directed the Oscar winning Kramer Vs. Kramer, as well as the film noir-mystery thriller Twilight (also starring Newman). While Places In The Heart certainly didn't at first glance seem like the type of film I'd truly enjoy, it quickly grew on me over its nearly two hour running time. Filled with vivid characters and fascinating perspectives of a time long past, Places In The Heart is a moving emotional journey.
Benton has done a beautiful job of making these characters both likable and believable. Even when they did things I didn't necessarily approve of, I still found that I sympathized with their plights. In a day of computers, MTV, and frozen pizza, it's hard for us to imagine the hardships people faced during the early part of the 20th century. Having a can of beans and a jug of milk was the equivalent to us having a stocked fridge and pantry full of food. It is a rare movie that feels as if it has transplanted us from 2001 to the 1930s with great ease -- Places In The Heart is able to do that.
The performances are all fine-tuned and solid. Sally Field displays a charming innocence and determined vigor as Edna, a woman who should have been broken by her circumstances yet continues to solider on. While I can't say that I think this was an Oscar winning performance, her portrayal of Edna is still emotionally wrought. Supporting Field is a very able cast, including Danny Glover as the Moze, a decent man persecuted just for being black, and John Malkovich as the blind boarder Mr. Will. You know, no matter what role I see John Malkovich in, I still find the guy to be a bit creepy. Also excellent in the case is Ed Harris as the cheating Wayne, Lindsey Crouse as his patient wife, and Lane Smith (TV's Lois and Clark) as a banker who assumes Edna is not strong enough to overcome her odds.
Benton's script is surprisingly quite and uncomplicated. Places In The Heart is not so much an interwoven story as it is a vivid character study. While there is a plot, it seems to almost come secondary to the interaction of the characters. A funny thing I noticed about Places In The Heart was that it was rated PG, yet there were a few scenes that ended up being disturbing, and maybe even haunting -- a sequence where a young black child is hung from a tree by a noose is especially harrowing. Moze's run-in with the Klu Klux Klan also has a steely edge to it that may not be suitable for some kids. On the other hand, it's a good way for children to see the horrible sins of our past, and make sure they are never repeated.
Places In The Heart is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Much like the era it presents, Places In The Heart's transfer is sometimes grainy and often times flat. While this is not a particularly bad transfer, it's not especially impressive either. There were instances of grain during the film, as well as a smidgen of edge enhancement in a few spots. Because of the film's age, Places In The Heart lacks real depth that many other DVD transfers provide. Otherwise, colors were very bright and black levels evenly rendered.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono and sounds consistent for the film it supports. Dialogue, effects, and music are all very clear of distortion and evenly mixed. Aside of a few effects and some music, Places In The Heart is mainly a dialogue driven film and as such didn't need a 5.1 or DTS remix (though one would have most certainly been welcome). Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital Mono track in French, as well as English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles.
Apparently there were no "places for extra features" on Places In The Heart, as the only supplements Columbia has included are three theatrical trailers for the films Places In The Heart, Avalon, and The Deep End Of The Ocean.
Ladies, even though they'll probably enjoy it, there just ain't no way you're going to get your men to rent a movie called Places In The Heart on a Saturday night. Sorry, it's just a fact of life. My advice is to try for a Monday or Thursday night.
With an emotionally poignant final image, Places In The Heart is a film I can highly recommend. Filled with wonderful performances and a colorful script, Robert Benton has crafted a film that is both harsh and hopeful, entertaining and thought provoking. I really enjoyed Places In The Heart more than I anticipated, and I have feeling that you will as well. Robert Benton has assembled a great cast and written a fine script that should make anyone appreciate the time period that they're living in. Columbia has done fair work on this Oscar winning title. While I can't say I recommend buying this disc if you haven't seen the movie, I can say that it's worth a rental.
As it is, Places In The Heart is grounded in the depression...why make more problems for the film by locking it up? Free to go and case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailers
* Production Notes