Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Rick (Bale), a screenwriter living in Los Angeles has all the success and wealth that anyone can dream of, but finds himself at somewhat of a crisis point in his life as struggles to find any meaning in his life and in the relationships he has with his father (Brian Dennehy), brother (Wes Bentley), wife (Blanchett) and an abundance of other women. He is basically the modern-day embodiment of the tarot card ‘knight of cups’, a man on a quest who enters a deep sleep after becoming distracted and drinking a strange potion.
Terence Malick has certainly been far more prolific in the last decade than in any decade before in his distinguished career, but it has increasingly felt like a case of quantity over quality. This is of course an auteur who has brought us some all-time classics (The Thin Red Line is a film that I personally consider as one of my all-time favourites), but recently it does feel that the magic has faded, even if his fantastic eye for stunning visuals has not.
It does seem to feel that The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and now Knight of Cups are all some kind of trilogy has they have a very similar stylistic and narrative style. So once again we have rapid editing of sweeping shots, whispered voice overs that are often rhetorical questions that the character is asking themselves and no real coherent narrative structure.
While The Tree of Life and To the Wonder were certainly flawed, they did offer enough rewards on both a visual and cerebral level, but with Knight of Cups this whole approach of Malick has gone one film too far. At least I hope they are some kind of trilogy, as it means Malick’s next project will hopefully signify a change in style and approach for this very talented, unique and visionary filmmaker.
There is no denying, that Knight of Cups has many beautifully put together shots and there are pleasures to be had from these immersive visuals. Undoubtedly some of the questions the characters ask themselves throughout the narrative are quite pertinent and can certainly be applied by the viewer to their own lives and personal experiences. However, overall Knight of Cups is just too repetitive and too self-indulgent, and so emerges as a film that alienates the viewer and ultimately will also bore the viewer.
It is just about watchable due to being so nice to look at, but it is just like staring at a very nice painting or a lovely view for two hours. It is impossible to have any emotional connection with any aspect of the film or its characters, and if that is the case then surely Malick has failed in his task. The film is also very repetitive as the protagonist has brief relationships with various beautiful women, and these do get very tiring to watch as each gets no more than twenty minutes of focus, and then Christian Bale’s character then spends time with another one doing exactly the same things as the last (in-between wandering around beaches and deserts of course).
It is impossible to praise or criticise the performances, as not one member of the long list of familiar names is really asked to do any acting at any point, just whisper some lines of voice-over and just often look into the distance pretending to have a few things on their mind. They are all perfectly competent performances and, as the main character Bale is very convincing as a solemn, sombre figure filled with remorse and regret (it is also quite a novelty for him not to be shouting and looking angry), but ultimately the film just does not have enough actual substance to make his performance worthwhile,
Knight of Cups could have worked, and I (unlike so many) do not have a problem with the lifestyle of the characters, as I believe any character can be relatable if presented in an appropriate context, even if they are wealthy, but for all of its potential on being an engaging reflection and meditation on the human condition, it just misses the mark.
The seeming descent of the once great Terence Malick appears to continue with his most uninvolving and self-indulgent film to date; Knight of Cups may look as beautiful as all of his other films, but just ultimately lacks the substance or focus.