At Play in the Fields of the Lord
Reviewed by Ned Daigle
Rating: 6 Beans
better title for this bloated epic would be "Asleep in the Fields of the Bored". Director Hector Babenco, following his successes "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" and "Ironweed", decided to film this adaptation of the Peter Matthiessen novel, and he falls flat on his face.
Babenco's failure really comes down to two problems, both of which were easily avoidable, that proved to be the film's death knell: pacing and casting.
"At Play in the Fields of the Lord" is at an interminable 3hrs and 5min. Now, I do not have a problem with long films. If they are done well ("Schindler's List", "The Deer Hunter", "The Godfather", and "Dances With Wolves" are good examples) they are immensely rewarding. If they aren't, they become sheer agony. The secret is pacing. The plot deals with two separate storylines within the jungles of the amazon. Storyline 1 is about an American Indian pilot who has a racial epiphany and joins a group of Native Amazonians to regain his personal heritage. Storyline 2 deals with a group of missionaries trying to convert the Amazonian tribes to Christianity. This is all well and good, however, if everything that needs to be said about this story could be said in an hour and 45min., why not just do that. Don't gussy up the flick with endless beautific skylines and lots of closeups of moist foliage. Numerous diversions such as these are not going to hold any sane moviegoer's attention. It's the kind of flick that when asked you shrug and say "Well, it LOOKED real good." There's only so much of nature's beauty one guy can take.
The second, and more serious problem, is in the casting. When I mentioned the Native American pilot joining the Amazon tribe, who did you picture? Certainly not all-American guy Tom Berenger. But yes, Berenger is done up in bad reddish skin makeup and black wig, and I guess we are supposed to buy it. Not a chance. When I mentioned a group of missionaries, two married couples as a matter of fact, who did you picture here? Certainly not John Lithgow, Darryl Hannah, Aidan Quinn, and Kathy Bates. To make matters worse they have Quinn married to Bates (who could pass for his mother) and Hannah married to Lithgow (who could pass for her father). And the performances from these 5 thespians ranges from the desperately flat and inadequate (Quinn and Hannah), to ripe over-the-top scene chewing (Bates and Lithgow), all the way up to giggle inducing (Berenger).
The story just sort of shambles along. taking a looooong time to reach conclusions that we in the audience pretty much already figured out. Trying to screw with an ancient tribe and foist the white man's lifestyle upon them is a bad bad bad idea.
Parts of this flick are actually pretty funny. When Berenger crash lands his plane in the jungle and treks to the tribe to join up, he removes all of his clothes and basically parades around stark naked for what seems like 45 minutes. No matter what your gender or sexual orientation is, this just isn't a very pretty sight. Berenger I guess deserves credit for shedding the duds and displaying his manhood for all to see (no matter how many penis-size jokes are sure to be made). Hannah is amusing just trying to act, but having to keep up with hubby Lithgow, who is so over-the-top that I almost expected steam to come out his nose, is just a lost cause. As another naked star we just don't want to see, Kathy Bates, upon the death of her and Quinn's son, strips down, smears herself with mud and grass, and does a dance around the grave replete with Indian war whoops.
But the amusing parts are just too few and far between to make "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" a truly hilarious epic. All those damn sunsets just kept spoiling the mood.
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