An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

an officer and a gentleman 1Lou Gossett Jr. What a performance. He imprints himself on our brains just like the new recruits he berates, pushes, and toughens on a daily basis. He’s inscrutable. We want to hate him. We want him to get his comeuppance.  Yet in the end, we cannot help but appreciate him. We are just like one of his recruits and that’s, in part, why this story works at all.

We’re there in the mud and the mire. We hold our breath in preparation for the latest inspection. Every drill has some consequence. Each failure and each conquest is like one of our own. And the desire for intimacy and love is in us too. This film takes many of its characters through the hell that is Aviation Officer Candidate School. But isn’t it the most trying times that remain the most memorable and truly mold us as human beings? It seems so.

It’s easy not to like the coolly defiant Richard Gere as Zach, even when we know a bit of his past because he can be distant at times. But we learn more about who he really is and as with most people, he grows on us. The same goes with his best buddy  Sid (Keith David) who is well-liked by everyone but realizes he’s been living his life all wrong. Likewise, Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynette (Lisa Blount) the two bodacious gals who have dreamed of dancing the night away with a pair of up and coming cadets, have their own set of problems.

an officer and a gentleman 2Watching An Officer and a Gentleman, it is rather amazing that it succeeds as part romance, part war drama since all its action takes place at an air force cadet school. They haven’t even reached the front yet. There are no explosions or bombs bursting in air. It even shares similarities with Fred Zinneman’s star-studded From Here to Eternity (1953) years before. But that story had far more star power and a climatic event like Pearl Harbor to build the story around. Here there’s nothing quite like that. But it’s not really needed. We are reminded that mankind is inherently interesting and when you throw a bunch of them together under duress it’s a formula for heightened emotions.

an officer and a gentleman 3Certainly, the film functions because it has all the necessary components, a rebellious hero played by Gere, troubled pasts, innumerable odds and the like. However, breaking the film down to its simple plot points hardly gives the film the credit it is due. There are so many intangibles when you watch something on the screen that really gets to your gut. It’s not necessarily manipulation on the part of any one person, director, screenwriter or otherwise. It’s simply the emotional clout that the medium of film is capable of.

As I watch Richard Gere carry his love (Debra Winger) out of her dead-end factory job, rather like a groom taking his bride over the threshold of their new lives, I too cannot help but smile ruefully. This is the schmaltzy ending of passionate love. But that is only one scene bookending so many others. Some that take us in a stranglehold. Others that fill us with contempt or pity. And as with any film, some that feel superfluous. What stays with you though when the screen goes black are the highs and the lows. An Officer and a Gentleman hits them both with ample fortitude.

4/5 Stars

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days_of_heaven1You can see Terrence Malick’s fingerprints all over this film and that’s certainly not a bad thing. It has his eye for the breathtakingly beautiful visuals and there is almost a spiritual quality of reverence to its pacing and tone. Slow, methodical, and ultimately deeply impactful. And there are so many Biblical parallels that can be taken hold of as well.

It’s as if Malick cannot bear to be stuck indoors. He hates having walls surrounding him especially when a camera is involved. He takes considerable interest in the sky, the landscapes, and creatures inhabiting the space around him. It’s not just his human subjects either, but everything of all shapes, sizes, and sounds. He cares about the exterior more than the interior, the earth and the heavens rather than anything made by the hands of man. It’s that type of approach that allows for such breathtaking visuals from Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler because the priorities are set. The sky is literally the limit.

The story opens during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and a young man named Bill (Richard Gere) is forced to flee his mining job for Texas taking along his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and his younger sister Linda. They travel around hitching a ride on a train looking for work until they finally find seasonal jobs at a Texas ranch in the fields. Life is relatively tranquil, although the work is hard. Bill maintains that Abby is his sister to keep people from getting ideas, but they are very close.

However, the young reserved owner of the ranch is instantly taken by her. She does not share his feelings, but a marital union is formed on the advice of Bill. After all, then she would have a cut of the man’s inheritance and the farmer doesn’t suspect a thing. So in this way, the love triangle is put into place, and yet relations still remain genial between everyone. This is a life they can get used to, especially for young Linda. That is until the man notices the intimacy of Bill and Abby and it angers him deeply. It’s only exasperated because Abby is starting to have feelings for him causing the web of romance and feelings to become ever more complicated.

And of course, on the day of the locust, the final restraints holding the farmer in place are released, and he unleashes on Bill with all his wrath. He is incensed beyond reason and once again Bill finds himself in another incriminating situation which he must flee from. Abby must start over with a new life and Linda finds herself at a boarding house. It’s not where we thought we would leave them, but it nonetheless satisfies as a half-resolution. It might as well be.

Many might notice that the narrative of Days of Heaven is rather thin, being held together by the meandering narration of Linda Manz. All this took Malick over 2 years to weave together into cohesion and it may not be a perfect fit, but it was thoroughly captivating because his film-making style is so visually robust. It’s often shot at gloriously magical times of day where the outlines of people and things become beautiful contours or stylized shapes. The sky is often bursting with color or warm like a painting of pastels. Those are the images that you are left with.

On her part, Brooke Adams is a natural beauty much in the same way of a Katharine Ross. Richard Gere is necessary with his playful and still fiery ways. Sam Shepard has a plainness and a calmness to him, but he really made this film with his explosion of emotion at the end, because something needed to break through the muted characterizations. It changed how we see him and really ups the tension of a generally restrained film.

4.5/5 Stars