Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
To say that writer/director Terrence Malick is an acquired taste doesn't quite cover it. He's a famous auteur who doesn't play by any of Hollywood's rules, or any rules in general, including the accepted idea that most theatrically-released films will at least come with plot, purpose and reason. I imagine that if Malick was told that his film must have a story, or a defined character, that he may just lose interest, take all his toys and go home. He is much more interested in creating transcendent experiences...film's like To the Wonder, The Tree of Life, The New World and the The Thin Red Line are hit-and-miss examples of his poetic style. These four previously mentioned films precede his latest work, Knight of Cups (opening today), his third film in the past five years (after directing Badlands and Days of Heaven in the 70s, Malick's next film didn't drop until the late 90s). He clearly has something to say lately, something worth expressing. And good luck finding whatever that is in Knight of Cups. It's his most pretentious, off-the-mark effort of his career.
I'd provide plot points if there were any. The film - told mostly in voice-over and dream-like, sweeping tracking shots - follows Rick (Christian Bale), a disenfranchised screenwriter in LA. It's not clear if Bale even knew he was in the movie. We see him wander around, walk here and there, and have sex with several different partners over the course of a few years (big name actresses like Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto and Teresa Palmer appear). Nothing really happens, nothing is all that consequential. The voice-over, from Bale mostly, feels like the inner-workings of a man deep in thought, pondering his existence. Surely that is what Malick is doing. But here, there is a major disconnect between what is being said and what is on-screen. Almost every shot ends with the camera turning upward to the sky, uninterested with the mortals below. We too, are uninterested in them because we are given nothing to sink our teeth into.
And this is not a critique of Malick's entire filmography, by the way. To the Wonder - his last film before this one - was high on my list of films in 2012. That movie was also dreamy, drifty and transcendent, but it connected to a refined, restrained story here on planet Earth. With Knight of Cups, he is simply bored with human emotion, human connection, or anything human at all. Should we be worried about Mr. Malick?
Go do some reading about the actors who appeared in this film, like comedians Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio and Nick Kroll. They appear in a sequence shot at a swank Hollywood party, and none of them had the slightest idea what the hell they were doing in this movie. No direction was given by Malick. Bale - the star of the film - had no script and was left frustrated as to who he was supposed to be. When he asked for guidance from Malick, he was told to "feel" certain scenes, and just let them film it. If this all sounds like a giant drug-induced clusterf**k, you wouldn't be far off.
Need I say more? Knight of Cups is for nobody at all except for the most dedicated Terrence Malick fans. It's one of the least effective, hollow films I've seen in recent years. It may have deeper meaning to Malick, but he does little to connect whatever it is he is attempting to convey, to the rest of us.
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Cherry Jones
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick (To the Wonder, The Tree of Life, The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, Badlands)
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