Dir: Terrence Malick (2015)
Infamous time taker Terrence Malick has, since the miraculous Tree of Life, had something of a spring in his step. In 2012 he went To The Wonder, with Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko and dipped his toes in to the water of self parody, probably asking himself in a thick southern drawl: What am I? What have I become? Themes which the director has always tackled are at the fore of his latest effort, Knight Of Cups including a few very personal ones. If his first three films could be viewed as novel like in structure and language then, this, is his third cine-poem; Short on story, free formed in it’s editing style, easy on the eye and perhaps the emptiest film of Malick’s career.
Christian Bale stars as some kind of Hollywood star; Its never really mentioned and Bale certainly doesn’t get a chance to say much. He’s a wandering, pondering, blank faced, shoeless dreamer. This chaptered affair seems to concern itself with a handful of beautiful women who float in and out of the stars life like plastic bags blowing in the wind. Natalie Portman, Kate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer and Isabel Lucas swan around the actor like birds of paradise; They go to fancy parties, they swim in the ocean in their clothes, they lie on beds in naturally lit rooms while Bale’s character pretends he’s somewhere else. In the desert, looking at the sky or perhaps with his weirdo brother (Wes Bentley) or his dying father (Brian Dennehy).
Emmanuel Lubezki gladly takes over the reigns once again as the most valuable player (as he so often does); The roaming super-wide lenses capture some fleeting moments of greatness but so many of them are few and far between Malick’s well trodden style. Endlessly pivoting characters, turning their backs looking at ceilings, skies and reflections while voice overs chime in and out with vague philosophical questioning. It is hypnotic in its construction but, in after thought, pretty damn boring and repetitive; Malick’s ticks have spread to his characters too.
Much like To The Wonder he also seems to take pleasure in neutering some fantastic actors, trimming lines, cutting away at some decent work in order to sandwich in another shot of a girl on a swing. Bale seems to be dialing it in from the other side of the world as the great director’s interest for dialogue (so beautiful in his first three master works) falls away. He’s not even really interested in their faces but the back of their heads as they forever turn away. It could be seen as an autobiographical comment on Malick’s place in Hollywood; A powerful but shy presence lost in all the metal and glass of the system, balking at parties and celebrity, getting on with doing the good work, fighting the good fight on the edge of the machine. It could be seen as poetic and profound. It could also be seen as a pretty average movie about the back of Christian Bale’s head.