lgauge’s review published on Letterboxd:
An impressionistic tour de force through the inner life of a fatigued Hollywood star.
Some films are not meant to be consciously understood or thought about in a conventional sense, they are meant to be felt. That can sometimes be difficult to achieve, both in terms of the creation of the film itself and in terms of approaching it as a viewer. That is to say, it doesn't always work. Not for every film, not for everyone. This film, for me, worked like a charm. It's just wave after wave (sometimes literally) of lush, warm, tactile and gorgeous sensation. There are words, there are characters, there are actions. On some level they make sense, but mostly they are simple shapes on a canvas or notes in a symphony. Not be investigated in isolation, only significant as part of the whole.
Pretty much every image is a feast for the eyes. Lubezki once again showing that he deserves his stature, if not necessarily every specific award. Malick combines all these shots in a masterful way, with many short rhytmic cuts as well as letting the longer contemplative moments flow like the waves and water that's a recurring motif throughout the film. And then there are all the brilliant match cuts. I really like the music as well, especially the use of Grieg which at least for me personally made everything all the more moving.
A good deal has been written about the unconventional way this was made. Reading about it I found it fascinating (unlike most others who seemed to be at best amused), and it's very nice to see that in the hand of a great director this approach can be very fruitful. If I was to make one small critique of the film, it would have to be that thematically it is not all that complex or saying much that hasn't already been said. However, those who would write it off as yet another depressed existential take on Hollywood life are, I feel, being either unfair or are putting too much stock in a narrative ambition that is simply not there.
Really, I loved this film. It feels very unique in its combination of high production values and star power with an uncompromisingly unusual directorial vision. It's magical ride, a visual walkabout, and everyone's invited.