Over the past few years, Terrence Malick has become one of the most polarizing filmmakers working in Hollywood. I myself have a love/hate relationship with his films and while I am a big fan of his earlier work like Days of Heaven, Badlands and The Thin Red Line, I am not particularly fond of what he has been doing recently. Malick was always known to be a visual stylist and I think the themes of love, life and religion his films explore have remained consistent throughout his career but what his films have began to severely lack in recently is an actual plot.
Malick’s change in style came with Tree of Life, a film in which he let go of a proper narrative and instead told the story purely through dreamy voice-overs, little dialogue and Emmanuel Lubezki’s eye-popping cinematography. And it worked. While I did not love the film, even I couldn’t deny that there was something truly beautiful about it which was really surprising considering the lack of substance. This was followed by To The Wonder after which it appeared that Malick had infact taken the joke too far, and the film itself had none of the emotional grip of Tree of Life and even less of a plot.
Now comes, Knight of Cups, a film with, you guessed it, even less of a plot and absolutely nothing the slightest bit engaging about it. The official plot description from Broad Green Pictures says:
‘Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep.’
But seeing how you’re probably as confused as I was after reading that I’m going to try to give you a basic description of the story which I gathered after seeing the movie. So the film basically centers around an unnamed Hollywood celebrity, possibly a screenwriter played by Christian Bale who finds himself sucked into the excessive Hollywood lifestyle. I wish I could elaborate more but there simply isn’t anything much to talk about because I can’t say I ever understood the central conflict of the entire film.
Knight of Cups is an excruciating exercise in self indulgent banality. It’s shocking how painfully empty and detached this film feels and how much it is lacking in direction. I mean it’s almost like someone tried to make a Terrence Malick parody.
What follows is nearly two hours of Christian Bale walking around L.A, looking outside windows, partying, looking outside more windows, womanizing, looking outside even more windows and acting like a moapy depressed bitch. ‘Acting’ would be an overstatement, because Christian Bale puts on his best poker face expression and sleepwalks his way to the most single-handedly worst performance of his career. It’s like Malick gave him a dozen bottles of valium, told him to do his thing and started shooting him.
Lubezki tries his best to make the vapid L.A backdrop visually engaging and while his cinematography is easily the best thing about the film it simply can’t compensate for everything else this film lacks in.
The film that tries very hard to make us connect with the emptiness of Bale’s protagonist, but there’s is just nothing there. Even if you forgive the lack of narrative Bale’s performance is so lacking in emotion or any facial expression for that matter that there’s nothing to connect with.
Knight of Cups is mundane, meandering and pretentious garbage. There’s nothing beautiful or poetic about it and it is unquestionably the most empty and meaningless work Malick has ever done.