For many, Terrence Malick’s work can be both beautiful and frustrating. “Knight of Cups” is no different. Like “To the Wonder,” his latest film is a journey of one man. A man caught in the tumultuous waves of life, jaded and wandering the vast emptiness of his life as a Hollywood screenwriter. The film truly evokes the definition of cinematic poetry as Malick uses swooping and breathtaking wide shots of Los Angeles (credited to the gorgeous cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki) and Las Vegas to portray a decadent lifestyle, fleeting relationships, and a rocky relationship with family. Just don’t expect there to be a whole lot of plot or anything else, which proves frustrating and a test to patience.

Typical of Malick, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but the film begins with a story about a prince from the East who travels westward, but before he can make it home he drinks from a cup that puts him in a slumber. The proverbial knight here is Christian Bale, who is identified in the credits as Rick, a man floating and wandering through his empty life. Malick parallels this emptiness with varying shots of the shallow Hollywood lifestyle of pool parties and photo shoots where models are being yelled at, and large mansions that are vast, but hollow.

Filled with stunningly beautiful landscape shots of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, “Knight of Cups” is a moving picture of poetry that never quite feels like it goes anywhere, but one you can’t peel your eyes away from. In almost two hours, the film is equal parts pretentious and wondrous, a visual feast for the eyes laced with an artificial air that leaves you wanting more than what it gives.

Christian Bale excellently portrays a character who’s removed from his life, consumed by nothing, almost unemotional in his relationships. Somehow, some sensuality bleeds through with his numerous interactions with women, including his ex-wife Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, and Imogen Poots. Blanchett’s character has the most depth, her sophisticated posture and barren expressions provide a solid tether to a reality that is no longer a part of Bale’s life. It’s a contrast to the ethereal beauty that surrounds Bale on a daily basis. She is one the people who is real and stands out in a world that is built on fantasy. Wes Bentley puts in a good performance as Bale’s less successful brother who’s always at odds with their father (Brian Dennehy). There’s a lot of shouting, 99% of which is never heard, but you can sense the turmoil as Bale plays spectator.

“Knight of Cups” certainly isn’t Malick’s strongest film, but it certainly occupies a precariously balanced state between like and dislike. Lubezki’s cinematography is absolutely some of the best and most astonishingly beautiful you’ll see all year. Malick’s filmmaking here–the wide shots, the shaky cam, the almost reverent touches of luxurious awe and hate–is motion picture poetry. However, the stunning visuals aren’t ever enough to carry an entire film and the lack of any actual plot, one-dimensional characters, the vacant lifestyle of decadence are pretentious at worst and ironic at best. The film, running almost two hours, is frustrating and hard to sit through. If you’re not a fan of Malick’s work, then you won’t like “Knight of Cups.”

40%
40%
Frustrating

Malick's filmmaking here--the wide shots, the shaky cam, the almost reverent touches of luxurious awe and hate--is motion picture poetry. However, the lack of any actual plot, one-dimensional characters, the vacant lifestyle of decadence are pretentious at worst and ironic at best. The film, running almost two hours, is frustrating and hard to sit through.

2 star

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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