Movie lovers are bound to have widely varying reactions to Terrence Malick’s latest, “Knight of Cups.”
Lovers of European cinema and artistic experimentation will point out that Malick has been on a multiyear journey of trying to tell stories through intense imagery, almost dispensing with dialogue while relying on whispery voiceovers. Such exploration went into full flower with 2011’s “The Tree of Life” and continued with 2012’s “To the Wonder.”
It’s going on in “Knight of Cups,” too. And the Austin director is doing more than just giving us beautiful imagery; he’s searching for meaning, for spiritual rebirth.
Other directors have tried such experimentation, but rarely have they been able to attract the big stars who populate Malick’s movies — apparently wanting to be a part of an unusual moviemaking experience. And in 25 years, Malick’s experimentation will probably be a regular topic in film studies courses.
Still, I suspect that most current moviegoers will have a less favorable reaction.
In particular, they’ll probably lack empathy for the movie’s main character, Rick (Christian Bale), who’s facing a spiritual malaise. He’s a rich Los Angeles resident, welcome in the most spectacular midcentury modern homes, with multiple romantic adventures with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto and Teresa Palmer. And he has quite a few threesomes, too.
He drives a black, vintage Lincoln convertible. He doesn’t appear to work, although we hear folks talking to him about how much money he could make on his next screenwriting project.
But Rick seems unsatisfied, even though he can have whomever and whatever he wants. So he looks to the heavens, to the pounding waves on the beaches, to the splendor of the desert.
Part of Rick’s problem might be that he has a father (Brian Dennehy) who hasn’t shown much love and seems abusive toward Rick’s mother (Cherry Jones.) Then there’s a troubled brother (Wes Bentley). And there’s a dead brother, possibly suicide.
Even Malick’s fans will probably admit that “Knight of Cups” is more like a montage of glorious images rather than a traditional movie. Of course, Malick is entitled to pursue his art in any way that he likes, and he is actually quite good at what he does.
He gets a lot of expert help. Once again, he uses Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who provides images that remind us of the beauty of the natural world — as well as the beauty of architecture. Jack Fisk, husband of Sissy Spacek, is the set designer. And Ruth De Jong serves as art director. There’s nary a flaw in any of this, unless you count one scene featuring a grotesque, marble-floored mansion with low-hanging chandeliers.
Malick is undoubtedly one of America’s most talented directors. His admirers will find much to like here. His detractors won’t. You probably know who you are.
‘Knight of Cups’
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman
Rating: R for nudity, sexuality, language
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Slaughter, Arbor, Violet Crown