A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life ★★★★

Terrence Malick is back. Back from the present. Back from the twirling. Back from his battle with the boundlessness of digital technology, a neutral force that nevertheless has the power to seduce certain filmmakers away from their convictions. Malick has always been the cinema’s most devout searcher, his faith and uncertainty going hand-in-hand. But the work he’s made over the last few years hasn’t been searching so much as lost. 2011’s “The Tree of Life” found the auteur pivoting away from the past for the first time in his storied career, and that semi-autobiographical masterpiece came to serve as the auteur’s bridge from historical frescos to contemporary sketches – from profound awe to puzzled wonder.

If “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” once proved that Malick’s impressionistic film language has the power to make myth feel like memory, the exasperating likes of “Knight of Cups” and “Song to Song” suggested that it also lacks the vocabulary to make sense of the 21st century. Unable to find any real measure of grace in a world that seems to have left it behind, Malick resigned himself to manufacturing his own artificial variety. His uncertainty faltered into doubt — if not in his Christian God, than in himself. And that’s how we got Ben Affleck watching Olga Kurylenko spinning herself stupid in front of a Sonic Burger.

But now, after seven long years of wandering in the desert — at a time when evil has become so rampant that even atheists might tremble at the godlessness that’s blowing over the world like a dull breeze — Terrence Malick has finally rediscovered his conviction and returned to solid ground. And he hasn’t come back empty-handed. Shot on digital (and taking full advantage of the catch-as-catch-can opportunities the format allows), but told with the probing moral urgency that was suffused into “The Thin Red Line,” “A Hidden Life” is a lucid and profoundly defiant portrait of faith in crisis. It’s an intimate epic about the immense strength required for resistance, and the courage that it takes for one to hold fast to their virtue during a crisis of faith, and in a world that may never reward them for it. It is, without question, the best thing that Malick has made since “The Tree of Life.”

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