Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Jason Clarke
Written by: Terrence Malick
Directed by: Terrence Malick
MPAA Rating: R for some nudity, sexuality and language
Running Time: 118
Date: 03/05/2016

Knight of Cups (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

West L.A. Fadeaway

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Terrence Malick is arguably one of the great current filmmakers, and while this, his first contemporary big city drama, is dreamy and lovely, it may try the patience of even his most ardent admirers. It's more experimental, and has even less plot, than Malick's other movies (Days of Heaven, The New World, The Tree of Life, etc.), and despite chapter headings named after Tarot cards, it mostly seems to be about two hours of characters endlessly meandering, searching, and wandering around city streets.

Screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) lives in Los Angeles and enjoys wealth and success, yet something seems to be missing. He attempts to fill his void with a series of beautiful women, rebellious Della (Imogen Poots), model Helen (Freida Pinto), and stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer). He also visits with Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a woman with whom he shares a colored past, and his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett). He also tries to maintain shaky relationships with his father (Brian Dennehy) and brother (Wes Bentley) after the death of a third brother. Endlessly wandering and searching, he finally glimpses a woman (Isabel Lucas) that could hold the answers for him. But is she within reach?

The urban setting doesn't seem to fit with Malick's usual themes, however. The meditative flow doesn't fit with the big city setting. Not to mention that it's difficult to identify with the shallow, Hollywood-centered characters, and thus tricky to discern any deeper meanings in the whole. But Malick, with the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, finds many, many images of great beauty among the concrete and steel of Los Angeles, and, at times it's an immersive, poetic experience.

Broad Green released a lovely Blu-ray edition that preserves Lubezki's flowing cinematography. A 16-minute featurette interviewing many of the actors sheds some light about what it might be like on a Malick production, and what he's hoping to achieve with his films. Too many critics and viewers have begun to turn on this unique filmmaker, bashing him for doing the same thing too many times, or accusing him of being one-note. But the truth is that, whether he's a great artist or not, he's certainly an artist that has a singular personality. I, for one, am far more interested in looking at that than I am some impersonal product ground out by a money-making machine.

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