Swartacus’s review published on Letterboxd:
That's how this film ends. With one spoken word. How it begins is another story all together. If you've seen other "latter day" Malick films you may walk out before this film really even gets going (as at least three people did at the showing I was at).
Let's get started shall we...
Keep reading if you have any interest in Terry Malick or his films, if not, cool...I will be reviewing Batman V. Superman later this week. Tune in for that. Now there are a few things you will need to be able to tolerate in order to make it through this film:
1. Can you watch a movie in which 90% of the dialogue is voice-over narration?
2. Can you make it through the first 20 minutes of a film where the main character Rick (played by Hollywood superstar Christian Bale) does not say a word to any other character?
3. Can you watch at least 15 minutes worth of wordless scenes of Christian Bale either walking through a desert or on a beach?
4. Can you watch a stripper feed Christian Bale a giant cartoon-sized lollypop before she rides the fireman pole....and still take this film seriously as a work of art?
5. Do you enjoy the New Orleans graveyard acid sequence in Easy Rider? Because I would say 40-50% of this film feels like that did.
If you answered yes to at least 2 or 3 of these (or all 5 as I did) than this film might have a shot at being intriguing to you.
Entering Malick's world again was quite a shock to the system for me. It has been a few years since I watched any film of his other than Badlands or Thin Red Line (his two most linear offerings). It took me quite a while to get my "Malick bearings", but luckily for me...that's about the same time the film cannonballed us into its Tarot card vignettes. Which I loved! I wish Tree of Life had these too. This really helped frame all the metaphorical layers for me. I said "cannonballed" above because there are an ungodly amount of submerged water shots in this film. Nobody but Malick can truly make you feel immersed in the "feel" of a film. Lately his films are like entering the hazy slices of another human beings memory banks. This film was even more in that Tree of Life type vein...but now Chivo has taken to going mostly handheld and even working in what looks like Go Pro footage. There is a nice injection of modern zest for a Terry Malick film. The wide angle lensed interior shots almost give off the feel of someone standing next to Bale wearing an undercover camera. It's quite unnerving at first...but as the film goes you want more of it.
This is Malick's "mid-life" crisis film. This is fascinating to me because it's a mid life crisis film being done by a 72 year old man looking back on his own breakdown. The Bale character is obviously a young Malick and that puts him about to enter his 40s right around the time he was supposed to be in pre-production for a film called "Q" for Paramount (this eventually became Tree of Life) but then he mysteriously disappeared to Paris... ne'er to resurface again until the late 90s.
The Bale character is literally adrift in the desert of his life....furiously and helplessly flailing for water (or in this case Love - what did you expect this IS a Malick film).
I particularly loved the transition from "The Hermit" section to "Judgment" section. If you are traveling through someone's memory I would imagine it would be very disjointed like this transition is. "The Hermit" section is the already infamous Tony Banderas party segment. Holy shit did this wail! I loved the randomness of the B level star cameos as Bale's Rick forlornly trudges through Tonio's opulent manor. Banderas is still incredibly charming even though a lot of his dialogue is quite dastardly. But again...if we are assuming this is to represent the Hollywood of the early '80s than his treatment of young starlets seems to hold water.
This surprisingly light (for Malick) segment then thuds into a dour Cate Blanchett "Judgment" segment in which we are jettisoned into scenes from a disintegrating marriage. The shift in tone nearly gave me whiplash and it felt very real to me. Malick even makes a guy with a leaf blower seem to resonate with the weight of the world.
**For the record I do believe that inane memories like that do get seared into your brain when a traumatic life event is taking place.
This film kind of plays like a greatest hits album of Malick and I am okay with that because the things he does well and the things he does poorly come in small doses. You don't get as annoyed with some of the pretentiousness because the following "Card" will have strippers or a Michael Wincott cameo...or Brian Dennehy will wander and grumble his way into a scene. And the things Malick does well come in short bursts so they tantilize you and leave you wanting more. All of these things (even the so-called "boring" stuff) kept my attention, along with Chivo's masterful cinematography and the brilliant editing (I now understand why this took 3 years to finish). I feel like this one will be quite rewatchable because somehow Terry managed to edit himself under 2 hours in length. A small miracle in itself.
I don't necessarily believe in coincidence...I am generally a man of fate. I don't believe it was coincidence that this film happened to be released at this exact point in my life. I just turned 40, I am entering a mid life crisis phase myself...hell I even just went to Vegas. It was a bit eery seeing Bale walking Zombie-like through the 24 hour clown show that is SIn City and stopping at many of the exact same spots I did.... gaping in awe and unflinchingly dumbfounded to the chaos surrounding him.
Malick chose to put in so many references to "leaving" - helicopters, birds, trains, planes, car joyrides, and literal "jumping off" points in this film. It's time for Bale's Rick to finally put his big boy pants on and join "reality". We don't see what comes next...but the wild journey to get there was as intense as it was merry.
What Malick nails in this film is not the fact that everyone goes apeshit when they hit their 40s or 50s. This is what I always was led to believe happens to men "of a certain age". In reality it goes more like this: "why the fuck did I waste 20 years on that?" and then you move forward. You begin again.