Director Terrence Malick has mercifully completed a trilogy that began with “The Tree of Life” and “To The Wonder.” His latest, “Knight of Cups”, manages to be infuriatingly boring and pretentious, all while making a viewer wonder just how in the hell did this cavalcade of movie stars agree to participate in this exercise of self-indulgence.
“Knight of Cups” isn’t an example of a director losing his fastball. It’s much, much worse than that. This is a director that still thinks he has his fastball, keeps throwing it, and keeps getting drilled. After three nearly identical movies, it’s almost as if Malick is intentionally seeing how many people he can irritate.
Even after watching “Knight of Cups”, it’s tough to tell what the movie is actually about. There is definitely a guy named Rick (Christian Bale), who lives a life of Los Angeles excess as a screenwriter. Rick has a brother, Barry (Wes Bentley), who may have once been homeless, a drug addict, or is potentially mentally handicapped. If there was any character exploration or actual plot, it would be easier to know these things.
Rick and Barry’s father, Joseph (Brian Dennehy), might have a terminal illness. Maybe. Again…it’s not clear. Joseph wanders around what looks like an abandoned office, washes his hands in what looks like a bowl full of blood, then screams at his sons.
Why are they fighting so much? Who knows? It’s doubtful that the actors even know. Their words are silenced as you watch them scream, but instead of hearing what they are saying, Malick chooses to have them narrate via ridiculous, self-absorbed soliloquies about pearls and tales of woe.
As Rick wanders around Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or the desert, he reminisces about his failed relationships with six women (played by Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, and Imogen Poots). There’s rarely a reason provided for how or why most of these relationships failed. One can assume they tanked because Rick spends too much time staring at buildings or seemingly amazed every time a helicopter flies overhead.
Art film fans go on and on about the images that Malick chooses to put on screen and yes, he does seem to find some fascinating things and beautiful, remote areas for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to shoot. However, after they choose to show waves crashing on the beach for the tenth time, it quickly becomes nonsensical overkill.
All of this is extremely annoying, but what takes the cake in “Knight of Cups” is the fact that not one person on screen ever seems to stand still. The camera swoops around people as they appear in tight spaces, not still for a moment as they “converse” with others.
There’s a chance that Malick’s goal with “Knight of Cups” was to create a surreal, disorienting look at a sad man’s life, but he’s fallen unbelievably short. He’s taken a massive amount of talented actors and actresses and rendered them worthless. It’s impossible to assess any of the performances on screen because Malick treats his cast just like he does a mountain or a tree: he simply puts them onscreen and expects a sweeping score accompanied by palm trees or luxurious pools at California mansions to create a story.
In fact, there’s nary a character in “Knight of Cups” that doesn’t seem like every time they see water, whether in a pool or the ocean, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen it. Rick and the people in his life are all fascinated by something that covers 71% of planet Earth.
There is only one thing that “Knight of Cups” proves and that is Terrence Malick could have a phenomenal career as a cologne commercial director. He’s essentially created an almost two hour long Obsession commercial, complete with pretty people doing randomly insane things. If Johnny Depp suddenly showed up in the desert with Rick then buried a bunch of bracelets in the sand, no one should even bat an eye. That’s is how brain damaged this movie is.
There are probably more words in this review of “Knight of Cups” than are in the movie’s script. In short, spending one dime to watch this movie is a waste and borderline irresponsible.
Knight of Cups is available on Blu-ray™, DVD, VOD and Digital HD June 21.