Review: Knight of Cups, D
Rated R, 118 minutes
Much like a cup of coffee or a glass of beer, acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick of "Days of Heaven" and "The Tree of Life" fame is an acquired taste. Malick is a filmmaker who rarely subscribes to the normal filmmaking conventions, which can result in elegaic, thoughtful films, though the elegantly filmed, well-cast "Knight of Cups" is not one of those movies: a self-indulgent, tedious non-linear dissection of the meaning of life, and an unqualified mess of a movie. Rick (Christian Bale), a screenwriter living in Los Angeles tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him. While he's successful in his career, his life feels empty. Haunted by the death of one brother and the dire circumstances of the other (Wes Bentley), he finds temporary solace in the Hollywood excess that defines his existence. Women (Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Isabel Lucas) provide a distraction to the daily pain he must endure, and every encounter that comes his way brings him closer to finding his place in the world. The movie has eight chapters, plus a prologue, each loosely based around the central character Rick's relationship with somebody in his life, and each named after a tarot card, except the final chapter "Freedom." The meaning of life isn't something that's new for director and writer Malick, he did it in much better, alebeit in more expansive form in 2011's "The Tree of Life," which was an admittedly unusual but more satisfying experience. "Cups" is more personal in tone, but quickly becomes ponderous as the camera follows Bale throughout Los Angeles and other areas walking, walking and doing more walking, considering what went wrong with his relationships and his life; it's one of Malick's least successful films, an all-over-the-place near disaster that crashes and burns early on. It's all rather unfortunate, given the handsome, poetic photography from recent Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki ("The Revenant"), the energetic score from Hanan Townshend and the terrific Oscar-winning cast, including Bale, Blanchett, and Portman, all of whom apparently jumped at the chance to work with such an enigmatic, unconventional filmmaker such as Malick, whose loose improvisational style of filmmaking and non-linear storytelling make it an endurance test as to whether audiences will actually stay awake (good luck with that). Malick's vision of the meaning of life includes sex, long walks on the beach, an earthquake, more walks through a desert, some fights with your family, a visit with a monk and a big party that includes the eclectic likes of Ryan O'Neal and Joe Mangianello, along with some heavy-handed voice-over narration, all of which must've made sense to Malick and no one else, including his cast, seemingly given little direction here based on all the wandering around they do. "Knight of Cups" is a tedious, sleep-inducing experience and isn't thought-provoking, except for wishing and hoping that it will all end very soon. This is for die-hard Malick fans, who'll leave as baffled as anyone else.