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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

The Tree Of Lame

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday April 28, 06:07 pm
Knight Of Cups is tedious, pompous and stupid

Knight of Cups
Opens April 29
Roxy Theatre
1.5 out 5

Terrence Malick has long been considered one of the foremost voices in American cinema, but it’s time to reconsider his actual contribution to filmmaking — especially since his return to the director’s chair after a 20-year hiatus.

As he’s progressed in his career, Malick has grown increasingly hermetic. At least The Thin Red Line and The New World had the support of history to allow the filmmaker to go crazy on his musings about war and civilization. The Tree of Life was divisive, but had the saving grace of ambition.

In spite of this, the seeds of how unbearable Malick would become were in plain sight.

The excruciating To the Wonder explored romance and faith through inconsistent characters and bad poetry. Knight of Cups is a notch above only because the setting is more compelling, and Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett run rings around Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko’s acting skills.

Composed of eight chapters, each named after a tarot card (except the last chapter, called “Freedom”), Knight of Cups could be described as the mopiest episode of Entourage ever. Rick (Bale) is a successful scriptwriter who despite all the money and gorgeous women throwing themselves at him, feels empty inside (I hate when that happens). Glitzy parties and meaningless sex can’t seem to quash his middle-age yearning.

As Rick slides his finger across surfaces all around Los Angeles, the cause of his weariness becomes more or less clear: all the connections he has forged through his life are gone or have dissolved. His brother (Wes Bentley) is dead, his dad (Brian Dennehy) is losing his mind, his ex-wife (Cate Blanchett) gave up on him, and his lover (Natalie Portman) has her own issues to deal with. Rick also longs for a son, for no good reason.

No actual dialogue reveals any of this. Just oblique monologues about the soullessness of Hollywood and the importance of love. This, for about two hours. Rick’s dramatic arc is solved abruptly in the final 10 minutes in the cheapest way imaginable. Comparatively speaking, he has it easy. No one else gets a resolution. Heck, you’ll see a good dozen recognizable faces whose lines were cut (Fabio!). They all look so eager.

At times, it’s laughable how pretentious this movie is (actual line: “Do you see the palm trees? They tell you everything is possible.”). There are no less than three scenes featuring people going into the water fully clothed. I’m sure in Malick’s head there’s a deep meaning to this (baptism, probably), but from outside his skull it just seems like there’s a swimsuit shortage in California. Sadly, mocking this self-indulgent exercise only kills a few minutes of the film’s length.

There is one saving grace in Knight of Cups: Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. The three-time Academy Award winner can find beauty wherever he looks and transforms L.A. into an over-lit marble paradise. There isn’t anything as showy as in Birdman or The Revenant, but there is merit in finding a new way to show Los Angeles. Knight of Cups is Lubezki-Malick’s fourth collaboration, and it’s a mystery how the two of them communicate without a decent plot to rely on.

Malick already has a new movie in the can, Weightless, about intersecting love triangles in the Austin music scene. Ryan Gosling revealed they shot the film without a script, so prepare for one more inane digression. There is no doubt Malick is earnest in his endeavors, but his obsessions are so personal it’s hard to engage with them.

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