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“Knight of Cups” gives audiences another Terrence Malick film to ponder

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There are very few filmmakers with a more singular style out there than the one and only Terrence Malick. This week, he offers up another unique cinematic experience with Knight of Cups, sure to be a divisive little movie. This is part of his new, slightly grittier fare, and it’s certainly going to get a response out of you. I’ve had a hit or miss relationship with Malick flicks previously, though I can say without question that this is unlike anything he has ever done before, at least in terms of what he’s trying to accomplish. I’ll share my personal thoughts below, but Malick fans will have reason to anticipate this release, that’s for sure.

The film follows a successful writer named Rick (Christian Bale) as he indulges in Hollywood excess and wanders around, pontificating about his life to himself, as well as the audience, in voiceover monologue after voiceover monologue. There are glimpses at his relationship with his father (Brian Dennehy), brother (Wes Bentley), as well as the various women in his life (including Cate Blanchett, Teresa Palmer, Frieda Pinto, Imogen Poots, and Natalie Portman), but often his just Rick, wandering about a party or the streets of Los Angeles. Malick writes and directs, as you’d obviously believe while watching this, with cinematography from the great Emmanuel Lubezki, production design by longtime collaborator Jack Fisk, and music from Harlan Townshend. Other cast members include Antonio Banderas, Jason Clarke, Clifton Collins Jr., Kevin Corrigan, Dane DeHaan, Cherry Jones, Nick Kroll, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Isabel Lucas, Joe Manganiello, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Nick Offerman, and Fabio. Yes, Fabio.

Simply put, I really didn’t care for this flick. All of the issues I’ve been having with Malick over his past few works are here in full force, amped up with a story about a spoiled man whining about his life but doing nothing about it. The cast is wasted, the gorgeous visuals are as well, and it all seems too quickly thrown together. The care he showed in Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line appear to be gone, in favor of a loose DIY style that just is a bad fit for the director. Maybe I’m alone in thinking this way, but I found it to be a big misfire, carrying his bad habits from To the Wonder and expanding on them. Alas. They can’t all be winners, right?

As a bonus/comparison, here’s how I would rank all of Malick’s films to date:

1. Badlands
2. The Thin Red Line
3. The Tree of Life
4. Days of Heaven
5. To the Wonder
6. Knight of Cups

Awards wise, I don’t think this one will be going anywhere, but if there’s one aspect of the movie that is worthy of acclaim, it’s the cinematography. Knight of Cups is the most visually interesting collaboration yet between Lubezki and Malick, which is really saying something. Depending on what the budget point was on this, I suppose certain indie awards groups could take a shine to it, but they avoided To the Wonder, so I suspect this will get the same sort of a reaction as well. This wasn’t made to be awarded anyway, so I’m sure no one is losing any potential sleep here.

Come Friday, audiences will be able to see Knight of Cups for themselves when it begins its theatrical run. I’m sure Malick fans will come out for it, though I’m not sure it will really appeal to anyone else. The best comparison here is to his last film, To the Wonder. If that one worked for you, this one almost assuredly will. It’s not really my thing, so it didn’t work for me. Make up your own mind though, since regardless of quality, a new Malick release is still a bit of an event. If you’re a big cinephile, you’ll probably not want to miss it.

Knight of Cups begins its theatrical run in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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