Scott Anderson’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Dreams are nice, but you can't live in them."
After The Tree of Life knocked me on my ass and simultaneously filled me with joy and sorrow, warmth and pain, comfort and fear, I couldn't recommend the film fast enough to others. I knew it wasn't exactly what many consider to be accessible material, but I figured if I described the experience well enough and painted a vivid picture of just how deeply it affected me emotionally, others might see what I saw: a profound, sweeping work of art that reminded me I was mortal yet was begging me to embrace the splendor of life.
It didn't go so well. Some saw beauty in the images but little to no substance in what they were saying. Others saw nothing at all. This isn't a condemnation of their opinions, in fact I can't possibly blame them since I was the same way the first time I witnessed the film. My boredom quickly blossomed into disgust, my patience wore thin in a hurry over the whispering voice-overs and seemingly meaningless string of imagery that was undeniably gorgeously filmed, yet hollow. I needed to dig deeper to find it, to find everything, and I am so glad I did.
This leads me to the new film from director Terrence Malick, Knight of Cups. I know without a shadow of a doubt that much like most if not all Malick, this is a picture that was destined to polarize and hearing many express hatred towards it will not shock me. I couldn't possibly recommend the film based on character or performance or story, because none of those things really matter. If you look closely and allow the artistry of what Malick and master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki achieved here, what you will find are frames that are bursting at the seams with life and passion.
The film follows a writer named Rick (Christian Bale) as he wanders Los Angeles and Las Vegas, from crowded streets to barren landscapes, in search of something more. To many his life probably seems something worthy of being envied, as he parties lavishly and surrounds himself with stunning women, yet it is evident throughout that there is an emptiness that haunts him and a desire for a deeper connection both within himself and with others that guides his movements. Those stunning women I mentioned are portrayed by Cate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, Freida Pinto and Natalie Portman, not to mention the random frolicking forays with other mostly or completely nude beauties, and yet while the people in the frame could constantly be described as sexy and worthy of lustful thoughts and feelings, I was never distracted by it. The human form as envisioned by Malick through a Chivo lens always comes across as evidence of a higher power rather than a sexual turn on, playing more like a sculpture in a museum than a teenage wet dream.
At this point, I feel like you either love Malick or you don't. Not that some of his work doesn't elicit a much stronger reaction than others, even from his biggest fans. I consider The Tree of Life to be the greatest accomplishment in the history of cinema while To the Wonder was gorgeous to watch but provoked very little thought, but even a lesser Malick still feels like it deserves to be seen and appreciated. If you have hated everything the man has touched thus far, you will likely loathe Knight of Cups aggressively because his style is still oozing from every inch. However, if you're not sure and willing to give it a try, go into Knight of Cups with a willingness to be swept away by perfectly lit and captured shots that I wish I could frame and bring to work with me, placing the images across the sad, windowless walls I stare at all day to remind myself that just outside is a world that is nothing short of miraculous.