Harry Ridgway’s review published on Letterboxd:
36 years on and Days of Heaven's visual resplendence and epic texture still reigns supreme. Malick's visual prowess has of course become more polished since then but his subsequent works have been unable to match the unfounded imagery overwhelmingly displayed in this work of genius. It's Malick's painstaking work-ethic, his persistence to capture the shot, never compromising and the location he assembles that asserts Days of Heaven as a masterpiece impervious to emulation.
Despite clocking in at a swift 94 minutes, Days of Heaven has all the sensibilities of a sweeping epic. There are grave themes here of isolation and temptation that other filmmakers may wish to examine for 3+hours. Malick however explores the same region with identical profundity in a concise and tedium-free timespan; all the while delivering new plot points with both visual and verbal flair. It's remarkable how each scene can simultaneously mull over such optical exquisiteness whilst deriving significant tools for constructing an insightful story.
The conceit may today be a frail and clichéd backbone for a narrative to possess but back in 1978 it had unremitting power if crafted correctly. The love-triangle can evoke intense notions of jealously, pride and angst in addition to transporting the audience into a muddled situation that is inherently packed with multiple, severe solutions. The obvious candidate for why Days of Heaven will be eternally distinct is its coalition of story and innovative visuals. Yet, while true, this does take away from Malick's fluid and novel storytelling techniques.
Anyone at least minimally enamoured with the auteur can pick up on his unique writing style that threads its way through all his works. The dialogue is tweaked (or perhaps not tweaked at all) to be imbued with a certain spontaneity; a sense that the words spoken are improvised and felt within that moment. The "umms..." and "errs..." him and his actors allow in the performance could come off as contrived but instead is managed in a way that makes the characters, actions and words feel exceptionally authentic.
Now as much labour put into the story it is inevitable that it will become background noise in some of the more breathtaking moments of utter artistry (and so it should). It's no secret the visuals are basically faultless. What struck me the most in the aesthetic was of course the golden-glazed locale and the incredible scope Malick and cinematographer Nestor Almendros (and arguably Haskell Wexler) inject into each scene. Even though it predominantly revolves around a single plot of farmland, the film's sweep and scope can even rival that of classic blockbusters. It's awe-inspiring to see how much depth and quirks of the land are captured within these four corners. I wouldn't blame you if you started walking into the screen. It's that immersive.
Maybe the most memorable characteristic of the piece for me is Malick's utilization of that eponymous house. With it being strewn across all items affiliated with the film as well as garnering heavy screen-time, it truly is another character that has equal influence over the proceedings as the characters. It's a towering, lonesome structure that literally looms in the distance with a delectability that entices the three main characters closer and closer; doing anything they must to reach the splendour this home symbolizes. As the story grows the house moves nearer to the focal point - signifying the prosperous life inhabiting it as an initially distant dream now becoming a somewhat accessible reality.
Malick's organization of characters is certainly towards the more conventional end of spectrum. It firmly locks onto four leads: a tempestuous man, his sister, his lover and the affluent boss of these three. The straightforward rotations of protagonists is dissimilar to the complexities of Malick's later works The Thin Red Line or The Tree of Life to an extent. Whilst these films were effective with their shifts, Days of Heaven requires characters to be orchestrated intimately. The fundamental narrative is finite and with finite main characters the aforementioned intimacy reaches a beautiful equilibrium.
There may have been incredible strain on the actors but the end result is most certainly worth any struggle. The trio of Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard mould a multifaceted romance as well as absorbing characters whose ambitions for what they are doing remains immensely intriguing. Linda Manz however, due to both her character's heft on the tale and her naturalistic performance, is the most transcendent of them all. She narrates with naivety and a twang in her accent that intently fascinates and keeps you hanging off of every word. It's one of those things where a child's point of view, whilst not corresponding with the actual events, is monumentally though-provoking and insightful in a kind-of warped way.
It's a meditation on loneliness and love. An astronomically successful aesthetic experiment and perfect example of how to make your third act explode of the screen in a hail of unforeseen power and muscle. And, above all, it's unrelenting beauty helps develop a once in a life time piece of art.