Jeffrey Overstreet’s review published on Letterboxd:
First impressions, just for you guys. I'll refine these into a review later.
I should begin by saying that my understanding and appreciation of Malick is evolving substantially. As I half-expected I would, my interpretation of what he's really up to changes with each film.
At this point, I can appreciate that Malick is doing what filmmakers should have more permission to do — that is, to work the way other true artists do. Great artists tend to work incrementally, exploring ideas, following where inspiration leads, and they often spend a long time in one country, exploring it through whatever unique lenses and instruments they've fashioned.
Malick spent 30 years... 30 years... without showing us the lenses and instruments he was fashioning. He began using them in THE THIN RED LINE, refined them in THE NEW WORLD, and really tapped into what he seems most excited about doing with THE TREE OF LIFE. He is still sifting his personal history, his theological questions, his specific conundrums with the problem of evil, through these lenses and instruments. And many of us, me included, are impatient with him to use *new* lenses and instruments... which is just impatient and unrealistic of us. I want that rush again that I felt watching THE NEW WORLD, which was *for me* the most meaningful of these explorations. But to strike that kind of revelatory gold again, he might need another 30 year hiatus. Instead, he's going to get there gradually, with small discoveries, chasing new questions.
One thing that I'm realizing this time around is that I need to stop fussing about his interior monologues, and how they've lost the character specificity of his earlier work. I think his films have become the inverse of an illustrated book of poetry: The specifics of individuality and circumstance — the poetry ... that's in the images. The spoken words, those are connection points that allow these films to powerfully transcend cultures and generations, weaving them into other worlds — scripture, ancient myths, great literature, poetry. The words are more like minimalist illustrations, while the pictures are the actual *text*.
So yes, there is a lot of familiar material here that entangles this film in the stuff of THE NEW WORLD — a couple of lines are startling reversals of lines from that film: "I remember when I'm with you what I forget when I'm away" becomes "When I'm with you, I forget everything, including my husband." — and THE TREE OF LIFE, and TO THE WONDER. But of course there is. This is another book of poetry about the same journey of soul-searching, another painting made of the same landscape.
It makes sense, even if it is so predictably typical, that the film's musical foundation is "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" (my own favorite classical composition).
As images go, KNIGHT OF CUPS is three times the treasure trove that TO THE WONDER was, but the sheer number of female characters makes it so that they don't register as intimately and powerfully. Blanchett and Portman draw the most memorable characters.
This film reminded me, surprisingly, of MIRRORMASK in the way that it revealed Los Angeles as a fantasy world I'd never seen before, the way perspective keeps distorting, the way that characters encountered by our progressing pilgrim seem to be made of paper and makeup and costumes instead of human substance.
It also reminded me, above all, of FARAWAY SO CLOSE... or, rather, what I wish that film had been. This feels like a WINGS OF DESIRE sequel more than any of Malick's films. It's the Cassiel story, the loss of innocence, the long despairing walk through a harrowing labyrinth of self-indulgence and meaninglessness. It's observed through those angel lenses — dipping into many consciousnesses, wide-eyed to beauty in any circumstance, following poetic everyman ruminations.
And why would I complain about a series of films carrying the perspective of my very favorite movie in all directions?
One more thing before I sign off for a while: So many people are finding this film to be yet another primarily autobiographical endeavor. But given Martin Sheen's recent storytelling about the influence of Malick in his life, I can't help but wonder: Couldn't this film have been, for Malick, heavily influenced by the story of a young man like Martin — and even more like Charlie Sheen — who is given the keys to Hollywood's kingdom, who veers off the path into calamitous self-indulgence, and who needs to (maybe does) begin finding his way back to redemption? Malick became a pilgrim's priest-like guide for Martin Sheen, and we've all seen Charlie go even farther off the deep end than Martin. This whole film is full of painful observations about what Hollywood can do to sons, to brothers, to fathers. It plays, for me, like an epic poem, or a prayer, for Martin, Emilio, and Charlie.