Depicting the Workings of Grace
A CINEMATIC VIEW
Places in the Heart is something special. This lovely, touching film stands with Chariots of Fire as one of the few films in recent years with both a sympathetic and profound view of religion. The plot centers around the efforts of Edna Spalding (Sally Field) to keep her family together in Waxahachie, Texas, during the Depression. With the bank threatening to foreclose on her house, Edna combats seemingly insurmountable odds, plants and reaps a cotton field, and even refuses to be defeated by a Texas tornado.
A summary of the plot, including the adulterous love affair between Edna’s brother-in-law and the town schoolteacher can make the film sound like a soap opera. Rather it is a sensitive, moving, beautifully acted depiction of the mysteries of love, life, death, and resurrection. Author/director Robert Benton, who grew up in Waxahachie, returned to his hometown to film his story, and in addition to his own extraordinary creative ability and insight he brought an outstanding cast. Field nicely underplays her role and in supporting roles Lindsay Crouse, John Malkovich, and Danny Glover are superb. Crouse plays Edna’s sinned-against sister with restrained strength and dignity. As the blind tenant whom Edna is forced to take in for financial reasons, Malkovich reveals considerable emotion though he never overacts. As the hobo Negro whom Edna hires to help raise cotton, Glover conveys a quiet dignity even when sins of racial prejudice almost crush him. Special commendation is due author/director Benton for having the artistic courage to conclude his film with a strikingly beautiful Christian scene. Depicting the workings of grace among flesh and blood characters, Places in the Heart is in a class by itself.
Viewing A Soldier’s Story, I was reminded of some of the powerful films from the past that explored racial prejudice. Very well constructed with frequent use of flashbacks and even a flashback within a flashback, A Soldier’s Story is on one level a murder mystery. A Negro sergeant (Adolph Caesar) in a regiment of black soldiers in Louisiana has been murdered. Set in an army camp during World War II, A Soldier’s Story captures what army life must have been like when the races were segregated. The murder seems to be racially motivated and when Washington sends Capt. Davenport (Howard E. Rollins), who is black, to investigate the murder, the tensions within the camp and the town increase. As a murder mystery A Soldier’s Story has some excitement. However, what the film is really about is what it meant to be black in America in the 1940s. Through the investigation of Capt. Davenport the viewer experiences something of the anger, frustration, despair, and hope of those who were black at that time in America. A Soldier’s Story contains extraordinary ensemble acting. Rollins and Caesar are very good but the rest of the cast, all of whom were unknown to me, are equally good.
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