Grade: B+


Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman

Never void of visual panache, director Terrence Malick has become a master of finding beauty in each and every aspect of normal and mundane. Despite what the subject matter contains, whether it be war or survival or life, Malick allows his vision to be on the atmosphere first and narrative structure second. Earlier projects had a clearer through-line, but with his newest endeavor, Knight of Cups, Malick all but ignores the need for structure, illuminating with a poignant and ethereal glimpse into a life beyond the pieces that sum it up.

Christian Bale stars as Rick, a screenwriter bent on discovering himself, despite his desires and vices. Mixed between his home in Los Angeles and moments of debauchery in Las Vegas, Rick's search is made up of significant encounters with others and quiet, somber reflections inward. Not always romantic, Rick's relationships with others tell him more about himself than he is brave enough to admit. Broken up into small, story-like vignettes, Knight of Cups shines a spotlight on the different chapters in growing up, even when you're already grown.

True Malick fans may find his almost-pretentious, meditative approach to storytelling super appealing. Even in showing the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, mansions and all, there's a certain subtle beauty translated through long, bemoaning shots cleverly captured by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Each image rides a fine line of being too gaudy or perfectly empowering. Perhaps this struggle is a Malick-inspired analogy in and of itself.

A director known for cowering away from big studio projects and the limelight in general, Malick has gone through phases of types of stories and themes. Lately, his study of the modern human spirit and the void and loneliness so easily felt, despite being more connected than ever before, provides plenty of opportunities for unique lessons learned. Without a clear narrative or pieced together subtext, Knight of Cups should sit more like a visual artwork begging to be discussed.

Malick has also attracted countless names of Hollywood starlets, box office titans, and indie kings and queens, and that's no different here. Alongside Bale are top-billed Natalie Portman, with the meatiest supporting role, and Cate Blanchett, chewing each and every scene in which she appears. Also popping up are Imogen Poots, the surprise and delight of the film, and Wes Bentley, proving he should be more of a name than he already is, among others. What's impressive, though, is Malick's servitude to the cinematic universe, allotting for organic atmospheres where the performers seem to easily and sincerely fall into natural roles.

Everything about Knight of Cups shouldn't work as a mainstream film. And, rightfully so. It isn't and shouldn't be marketed that way. Knowing Malick's style is helpful, if not beneficial, to understanding the lack of narrative and how that fits perfectly into the overall product. For those that haven't seen a Malick picture, start with something more appetizing like The Tree of Life or The Thin Red Line.

Knight of Cups looks beautiful and sits emotionally fulfilling long after the last beautiful image.

Rated: R

Runtime: 1 hr 58 min

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.