Picks and Pans Review: Places in the Heart

updated 10/01/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/01/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

This remarkably poignant drama of Depression-era Texas boasts Sally Field's finest performance since her Oscar-winning Norma Rae five years ago. Field plays a sheriff's widow struggling to run a cotton farm and support her two small children. Even when the plot veers into Perils of Pauline conventionality, with its mortgage foreclosures, tornado and brutal cotton harvest, Field never strikes a false note. Writer-director Robert {Kramer vs. Kramer) Benton succeeds best when he concentrates on character and the small details that reveal it. One simple scene—Field in a bank learning how to write a check—has more impact than a storm of special effects. Happily, there are many such scenes, including an opening and closing (not fair to give away here) that demonstrate an audacity rare in a director of Benton's refinement. No filmmaker could wish for a better cast. Newcomer John Malkovich, fresh from the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, is superb as a blind boarder Field takes in for extra cash. Touching in a manner that never begs for sympathy, Malkovich is a certain Oscar contender. Just as authentic is Lindsay Crouse as Field's sister, a beautician whose husband, Ed Harris, has been philandering with her best friend, Amy Madigan. With this small-scale but brilliant performance Crouse redeems her recent strident work in Daniel and Iceman. Harris and Madigan (real-life husband and wife) are first-rate in less carefully defined roles, and Danny Glover, of Broadway's 'Master Harold'... and the Boys, brings amazing directness and gallantry to what might have been a clichêd part as a black farmhand. Benton could have added more grit, but in an era of machine-made movies, why quibble with the first film this year to score an emotional bull's-eye? (PG)

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