I realize that living in the Western Plains of Wyoming during the 1900s was brutal, in fact, it probably is still brutal today, but was it monumental enough to transform into a seemingly "made-for-TV" movie? Also, women's rights were still budding in this nation during this time, so to find an independent woman determined to start fresh in this harsh territory, and still show the realism of the era would it make for good viewing? Honestly, I don't know. I have thought about this film for the past two days, and I still can't seem to muster the strength to say that it was a horrible film, yet I can truthfully tell you that it wasn't the greatest I have ever seen. From several hodgepodge styles of acting, to two mismatched actors playing devoid of emotion character, to some of the most gruesome PG rated scenes to ever come out of late 70s cinema, it is hard to fully get a good grasp on Heartland. Was it good? Was it bad? That may be up for you to view and decide yourself, but until then, here are moments I enjoyed and desperately hated!
This film continues to be a struggle in my mind because there were some very interesting scenes. Scenes where I wasn't sure what the director was doing or which direction he was headed, but somehow still seemed to work well as a whole. I thought the story as a whole was a very interesting, historical tale. I do not know much about living in Wyoming, especially during the early 1900s, so this film captured that image in my mind. The thought of very cold winters, no neighbors for miles upon miles, and this Polaroid-esquire view untouched by corporate America. It was refreshing to witness and sheer breathtaking to experience (though the television). There were scenes that really stood out in my mind, like the cattle-branding scene, the pig slaughtering scene, and the saddening homesteader that didn't survive their journey, that just brought a true sense of realism to this story. Director Richard Pearce did a great job of bringing the view of Wyoming to the viewers, but I am not sure he brought decent players to accompany the view.
While I will constantly compliment the scenery of this film, I had trouble coping with the actors that seemingly walked on the set and read their lines from cards on the side. Rip Torn seemed out of place in his role as Clyde Stewart, a loner that somehow finds a connection with Conchata Ferrell's Elinore Randall. The two as actors have no chemistry at all. Their scenes that they share together are pointless and honestly void of any emotion. The pregnancy scene nearly had me in stitches because of the way these two "veteran" actors portrayed it. The brave Elinore does what she has to do to get the child out of her, while Clyde gives an approving nod when she is done. This is love? Was it supposed to be love? I don't know, I think with stronger characters we would have seen a stronger bond, but with Torn and Ferrell, it felt like two actors just playing their parts. Other scenes that just seemed to struggle in my mind were ones like when the frozen horse "knocks" on the door for food or shelter, the constantly fading and growing compassion that Clyde had for Elinore's daughter (I just didn't believe it), the lack of true winter struggle, and the entire land scene. The land scene especially because I needed more explanation on what Elinore was doing, why she was doing it, and why Clyde would build her a house if they were married! It was these simple events that if taken the time to explore, would have made for a stronger film.
Overall, I will go middle of the road with this feature. There were definitely elements that should have been explored deeper, such as the relationship between these two strangers and the ultimate homesteading goals of Elinore, but they were countered with some beautiful scenes of our nation. These panoramic scenes which, in the span of 100 years, have changes from vast mountains to enormous skyscrapers. While there were some brilliant scenes of realism (starring cattle and pigs), I just felt as if we needed more. Depth was a key element lacking in this film, which was overshadowed by marginal acting and a diminishing story. Pearce could have dove deeper into this untapped world, but instead left open loopholes and clichéd Western characters. Ferrell carried her own, but Torn was completely miscast. Decent for a viewing, but will not be picked up again by me.
Grade: ** out of *****
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