Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Ever since his return to filmmaking in 1998, director Terrence Malick has established himself as the most unconventional filmmaker in the business. The word un-traditional is used a lot to describe his approach, from shooting movies without a script and then taking years to edit, from refusing to do press or cluing his actors in on the film they’re actually in. He’s a maverick and his films show it; often trading off a storyline in favor of philosophical ideas and using actors as props instead of characters. His latest, KNIGHT OF CUPS, shows that he has no intention of changing his style to please anyone.

Rick (Christian Bale) is a Hollywood screenwriter who is on the verge of signing on to work on a blockbuster film which will make him a millionaire, but he is going through some sort of personal crisis…and spends most of his time bedding women (played by Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, and Imogen Poots), while sorting out his old issues with his brother (Wes Bentley), and his father (Brian Dennehy).

True to the Malick style, KNIGHT OF CUPS does not offer much of a storyline in the traditional sense. Instead of an unfolding narrative where we follow a character through plot point after plot point, KNIGHT OF CUPS instead watches Rick as he stares out across the cityscape watching helicopters fly around. Characters rarely speak to each other, and we are instead treated to whispered narration in which their thoughts and feelings are expressed. Long-time admirers of Malick will certainly enjoy the approach, (the style is his trademark), and KNIGHT OF CUPS deserves points for being its own thing.

The film is divided up into eight chapters; with each chapter taking its name from the Tarot cards. Each chapter explores a theme, but here is where KNIGHT OF CUPS loses its shine. The film is horribly redundant as each chapter is exactly the same; Rick wanders around, meets a new girl, beds her, gets close to her, drifts away from her, and then goes back to wandering around staring at helicopters. It’s like watching the same vignette over and over, and by the third chapter the pattern is painfully obvious. Maybe Malick is trying to stay something about the repetitive nature of life, but as a film it gets old really fast.

Shot around Los Angeles and Hollywood, Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki do amazing work in filming the city. The beauty of the ocean and her beaches are stunning, as is the dullness of a highway underpass or abandoned building. The film spends a lot of time at locations in L.A. which have been used countless times for Hollywood productions. Long-time film-fans will recognize most of them, and one has to wonder if Malick is mocking Hollywood by utilizing them. Still, the film is technically proficient and beautifully scored, although Malick’s decision to shoot the actors from their backside for 90% of the film does get annoying; we see the backs of their heads more than their faces…again, perhaps another statement by Malick which works against the enjoyment of the movie.

It’s difficult to judge the acting in KNIGHT OF CUPS because no one really acts and instead walk around each other. The only true acting Malick seems to allow is when Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett square off against each other as ex-lovers. There are fireworks for a few glorious seconds before the dialogue disappears, and it feels like we were cheated out of a real showcase of acting from these two greats.

After dealing with a whole lot of redundancy, KNIGHT OF CUPS offers a finale which leaves Rick in the exact place where he started the film; which isn’t the worst thing in the world for a film to do, but considering the lack of a true narrative and all of the philosophical ideas tossed around (with no answers given), one has to wonder what the point of KNIGHT OF CUPS really is other than Malick quietly poking fun at mainstream Hollywood. Malick has given us a beautiful film which deserves praise for being its own thing and far from the standard fare grinded out by the Hollywood machine, but it doesn’t seem interested in functioning as a movie, and like its maker, doesn’t really care.


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