In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_9gm3ll8jmttmc3w4bmnmcurldl8

Guardians of the Galaxy

In many respects, “Guardians,” directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet…

Thumb_myhhyqdnplpywpihk5btjuq2kxk

Finding Fela

Alex Gibney's "Finding Fela," about the legendary African pop star and political activist, feels like the rough draft of a very good movie.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Heartland

  |  

Richard Pearce's "Heartland" is a big, robust, joyous movie about people who make other movie heroes look tentative. It takes place in 1910, out in the unsettled frontier landsof Wyoming, and it's about a determined young widow who packs up her daughter and moves out West to take a job as the housekeeper on a ranch. At first she is completely baffled by the rancher who has hired her ("I can't talk about anything with that man"), but in the end she marries him and digs in to fight an endless battle with the seasons, the land, and the banks.

A movie newcomer named Conchata Ferrell plays the widow, Elinore Randall. She's a big-boned, clear-eyed, wide-hipped woman of about thirty who makes us realize that most of the women in Westerns look as if they're about to collapse under the strain. She is extremely clear about her motivations. She gives a full day's work for a full day's pay, but she is tired of working for others, and would like to own her own land someday. She does not, however, speak endlessly about her beliefs and ambitions, because Heartland is a movie of few words. That is partly because of the character of Clyde Stewart (Rip Torn), the rancher she goes to work for. He hardly ever says anything. He is a hard man, a realist who knows that the undisciplined Western land can break his back. But he is not unkind, and in the scene where he finally proposes to marry her, his choice of words contains understated wit that makes us smile. 

Everything in this movie affirms life. Perhaps that is why Heartland can also be so unblinking in its consideration of death. The American West was not settled by people who spent all their time baking peach cobbler and knitting samplers, and this movie contains several scenes that will shock some audiences because of their forthright realism. We see a pig slaughtered, a calf birthed, cattle skinned, and a half-dead horse left out in the blizzard because there is simply nothing to feed it. 

All of Heartland is stunningly photographed on and around a Montana ranch. (The movie is based on the real life of a settler named Elinore Randall Stewart.) It contains countless small details of farming life, putin not for "atmosphere" but because they work better than dialogue to flesh out the characters. The desolation of the frontier is suggested in small vignettes, such as one involving a family that could get this far and no farther, and lives huddled inside a small wagon. Among the many scenes that delight us with their freshness is one moment right after the wedding, when Ferrell realizes she got married wearing her apron and work boots, and another when she is about to give birth and her husband rides off into the storm to fetch the midwife from the next farm. We settle back here in anticipation of the obligatory scene in which the midwife arrives and immediately orders everyone to boil hot water, lots of it but this time we're surprised. The husband returns alone; the midwife was not at her farm. Quiet little developments like that help expose the weight of clichés that holds down most Westerns. 

In a movie filled with wonderful things, the very best thing in Heartland is Conchata Ferrell's voice. It is strong, confident, clear as a bell, and naturally musical. It is a fine instrument, bringing authenticity to every word it says. It puts this movie to a test, because we could not quite accept that voice saying words that sounded phony and contrived. In Heartland, we never have to.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Comic-Con 2014: Star Trek Kickstarter Film "Prelude to Axanar"

A report from SDCC on the Kickstarter "Star Trek" film, "Prelude to Axanar."

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

The greatest films of all time

I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazi...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus