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Places in the Heart

Harking back to dustbowl America in the 1930s, Places in the Heart is director/writer Robert Benton's tribute to the courageous men and women of the Depression era. Taken from images and memories from Benton's own childhood, the film paints a picture of the hard-edged life in a Midwestern small-town, where eking out a living is next to impossible for most. Striving for a Grapes of Wrath profundity, Benton's film comes off feeling more like a made-for-TV movie. And who better to cast as the determined, spunky, and lovable heroine than Sally Field, who specializes in the importance of being earnest. Field plays Edna, mousy housewife of the local sheriff, who suddenly finds herself on her own when her husband is accidentally shot by a local. Edna is left with two children to raise, a mortgage to pay, and no skills or visible means of support. But she's got that American "can-do" attitude, and with the help of her minority-group-representing friends (including John Malkovich as a blind boarder and Danny Glover as a sharecropper), Edna starts her own cotton-growing business, which brings her both trials and triumphs. Running parallel to this soap opera is a subplot concerning an adulteress affair and its effect on the lives of two couples. Although well acted — particularly with supporting turns from Ed Harris and Linsday Crouse — this side-story is so far removed from the core plot that it feels forced and is at times distracting. When Places in the Heart was released in 1984, it was a critical success — even garnering Field the Best Actress Oscar — but it is the kind of film favorite that is filled with sentimentality rather than realism (think Driving Miss Daisy). Benton — who is chasing after the look and feel of films from an earlier, more naïve time in American and cinema history — succeeds only in creating featherweight entertainment that puts a soft lens on a dark and troubling era. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition is presented in both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame, with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono). Theatrical trailers, production notes. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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