At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991)
A 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 here deals with two separate storylines within the rain-forests 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 (aka 'The Terence Malick Effect'). 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 person can take.
The second, and more serious problem, is in the casting. When I mentioned the Native American pilot joining the Amazon tribe, who would you picture? Certainly not all-American guy Tom Berenger. But yes, Berenger is done up in bad, reddish skin makeup and a stringy, black wig, and I guess we are supposed to buy it. Not a chance. Now, when I mentioned a group of missionaries, two married couples as a matter of fact, who would 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 Quinn's mother) and Hannah married to Lithgow (who could pass for Hannah's father). And the performances from these 5 thespians range from the desperately flat and inadequate (Quinn and Hannah), to ripe, over-the-top scene-chewing (Bates and Lithgow), all the way up to the 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: If you screw with an ancient tribe and foist the white man's lifestyle upon them things will certainly turn out baaaaaaaad.
Parts of this flick are actually pretty funny: When Berenger crash-lands his plane in the jungle and treks to the tribe to join them, he removes all of his clothes and basically parades around stark naked for what seems like 45 minutes. 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; however, he shouldn't make this a habit. Hannah is amusing just trying to act (before her resurrection by Quentin Tarantino), 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 she also 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.