KNIGHT OF CUPS
(US - 2016)
TO THE WONDER--notable for being the first instance of some of his most devoted acolytes finally having the stones to admit he kinda lost them with this one--Malick continues to move away from the concept of narrative altogether in his presentation of Hollywood screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale, who worked with Malick on 2005's significantly better THE NEW WORLD), a man hopelessly lost in a suffocating malaise of L.A. ennui. No, KNIGHT OF CUPS isn't one of those bile-spewing insider takedowns of Hollywood but that might've actually been preferable. There's lots of scenes of Rick walking and driving around various obligatory recognizable locations (other than Bale, the most screen time goes to the 405 and some Death Valley wind turbines, and yes, at one point, he engages in some thousand-yard staring at the nearly bone-dry concrete of the L.A. River, whose appearance in a Los Angeles-set film is apparently required by law) and replaying the bad decisions and lost loves in his life. It's all accompanied by the expected ponderous, insufferable, pained-whisper narration by various characters that's become Malick's trademark (note: these make even less sense in context):
- "Fragments...pieces of a man...where did I go wrong?"
- "I want you. Hold you. Have you. Mine."
- "All those years...living the life of someone I didn't even know."
- "You gave me peace. You gave me what the world can't give. Mercy. Love. Joy. All else is cloud. Be with me. Always."
- "We find me."
- "Oh. Life."
Many familiar faces drift in and out throughout, some playing characters (Cate Blanchett as Rick's ex-wife; Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Isabel Lucas, Freida Pinto, and Teresa Palmer as various lovers; Wes Bentley as Rick's brother, who commited suicide; Brian Dennehy as their dad; barely visible bits by Nick Offerman, Jason Clarke, Clifton Collins Jr., Joel Kinnaman, Dane DeHaan, Shea Whigham, and Kevin Corrigan as Rick's buddies or colleagues) and others playing themselves in what amounts to an arthouse ZOOLANDER 2 (Ryan O'Neal, Fabio, Joe LoTruglio, Joe Manganiello, Thomas Lennon, and Antonio Banderas, who offers this bit of sage relationship advice to Rick: "It's like flavors...sometimes you want raspberry and after a while, you get tired and want strawberry," in a way that sounds like Antonio Banderas imitating Chris Kattan imitating Antonio Banderas on SNL). TO THE WONDER was terrible, but at least it captured the beauty in the bland sameness of middle America in a vividly Antonioni-esque, RED DESERT fashion. With KNIGHT OF CUPS, shot way back in 2012 and endlessly tinkered with by its dawdling maker, Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki don't even find a unique visual perspective of Los Angeles, mainly because we've seen all of these places in 50,000 other movies and Malick, currently American cinema's top auteur who doesn't seem to get out much, has no new perspective to offer. Sure, Malick injects some personal pain into the story--his own brother committed suicide--but does it matter when his writing has regressed to the level of an angsty teenager who's just had his heart broken for the first time? Do we need another movie about depressed and loathsome L.A. dickbags and their first-world problems? The Malick of old could bring a singularly original perspective to this tired and played-out concept, but all the Malick of today has to offer are sleepy, enigmatic voiceovers and more California cliches than a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Look, film snobs. Let's just cut the shit. Stop giving Malick a pass simply because of your fond memories of what he once was. (R, 118 mins)
(UK/Germany - 2015)