At this moment, it’s apparent visionary Terrence Malick has given up on narrative filmmaking. He has now become a one-trick pony where his distinctive style has sadly reached a level of endless self-parody. While his formal style is unique, and was groundbreaking in such masterpieces as “The Thin Red Line”, “The New World”, and “The Tree of Life” is now getting exhausting. Sure it offers more boldness than the majority of garbage Hollywood releases today, but it’s now becoming one-note for Malick. One can argue that great filmmakers have their own personalities and traits with their films, however if you look at many great filmmakers in the past like Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman, and Ingmar Bergman each of these filmmakers changed approaches, aesthetics, themes, and styles.
The film unravels in a man’s sex life, the character’s name is Rick and he is played by Christan Bale and all he does is space out in the sky and mopes around. He is very much like Ben Affleck’s character in “To the Wonder”, he barely has any dialogue outside of narration. That is exactly all “Knight of Cups” is, a collage of striking visuals with narration, this time it sounds painful to the ears other than poetic to the ears.
The film’s narrative is structured around the tarot deck, it has chapters: “The Moon”, “The Hanged Man”, “The High Priestness”, “Death”, and “Freedom” to name a few. There is no cohesive chronology to the narrative, just complete randomness. There is a sense of destination to Rick’s soul in this, we must be going to either a place of self-destruction or a place of redemption. The films city of Los Angeles plays out as a character of it’s own, this is Malick’s second film that is modern. The cinematography by the masterful Emmanuel Lubezki shoots Los Angeles almost otherworldly and equally metaphysical, where you feel time and space collide in a city of stardom and materialism. Sadly however the visuals feel like visual cliches of Malick’s much superior work.
Malick attempts at combining the eros with the poetic. We get into Rick’s rich privilege and love affairs. There is Hollywood lavish parties, a marriage to a nurse (Cate Blanchett), an affair with a married woman (Natalie Portman), a fling with a stripper (Teresa Palmer) where they travel to Las Vegas together. The film also explores Rick’s family life including his tormented brother (Wes Bentley), who’s mourning the death of their brother, and both brothers hold disdain towards their unstable father (Brian Dennehy).
Malick’s approach here doesn’t feel as artful or as hallucinatory as before, instead it feels more superficial and hallow. There is many topless woman, who all represent Rick’s quest for liberation, instead the woman come off as art-house parodies that feel straight out of Paulo Sorrentino’s films like “Youth” and “The Great Beauty”. The film becomes an insufferable journey of rich man self-pity and anguish, which would have worked more as satire than a collection of ravishing images of a man wandering beaches and deserts in Armani clothes.
Visually this is Malick’s most repetitious film yet. If you have grown tired of Malick’s one-note filmmaking, avoid this at all costs. He’s basically just rehashing the same style that made such accomplishments as “The Tree of Life” and “The New World” so lush and ethereal. It’s just another parade of swirling camera movements, rote visual metaphors, characters chasing each other, people hiding under beds, and narration of characters trying to find their place in the world. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, but Malick needs to do some soul searching himself to find a new way to hone his craft and style.