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Knight of Cups

Year: 2015
Production Co: Dogwood Films
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto. Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Theresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, Shea Whigman, Fabio, Nicky Whelan, Joe Manganiello, Beau Garret, Nick Kroll

Terrence Malick was incredibly highly regarded even though he'd released only a tiny number of films, and right up until 2011's The Tree of Life he was talked about in the same breathy tones as Stanley Kubrick, a genius poetic visualist for the digital age. The high points (at least for me) were The Thin Red Line, which combined his lyrical style with an actual narrative, and the sublime The New World, which was an order of magnitude more dreamlike and full of his later hallmarks, but was a breathtaking love story that didn't forget to tell a story.

After that he found his creative groove, threw his creative lot in with it and decided to become a lot more prolific. The Tree of Life was so sumptuous and gorgeous it blindsided most of us about how the story was either completely absent or so simple you could write it on the back of a stamp.

Then came To the Wonder, where nothing happened except for Olga Kurylenko breaking up with Ben Affleck, spinning around in circles in the suburbs of Texas and lacking even the transcendent visual beauty of The Tree of Life. It prompted many of his new fans to look awkwardly at each other with 'WTF?' expression on our faces.

Very soon after comes Knight of Cups, and it's obvious Malick has dispensed with storytelling altogether, leaning right in to his now-cemented m.o. of using nothing but rapturous snippets of sound and image to sketch a rough series of happenstance. Like David Lynch, he's now much more interested in the dream world than the real one.

Knight of Cups is another such effort. An unbelievably well dressed and wealthy screenwriter, Rick (Christian Bale), appears to be remembering flashbacks to the lovers he's had across his life while he navigates both the vacuous LA and Vegas party lifestyle and contemplates the infinite in the stark, endless deserts of Nevada.

To describe the story is both the easiest and hardest part of reviewing the film. The above description is just about it – he doesn't come to any realisation that's spoken in plain English, change, heal or otherwise evolve. He just wanders around deserts and beaches, opulent apartments and houses, rolls around in beds with women (literally - there are no sex scenes, they're actually just rolling around) and spouts whispered Malickian dialogue in voiceover.

Even when something in the real world is happening, like when he's walking down the street of a Hollywood backlot talking to his agent and a producer, his soporific commentary about skies, mother, rising, water and the sun is given precedence.

Malick once talked about how he doesn't block a scene, he just gives the actors a 3D space and tells them to go with their guts, leaving his camera and lighting crew scrambling to keep up with them. That's a sensitive and kind of innovative way to shoot a movie but when it's apparent he only has a few vague mood boards rather than a script, it makes for a very pretty art installation, but it doesn't make a film.

He's at his best with he combines that milieu with a script that has a point, but if his most recent and more prolific output is anything to go by, he's moved out of that territory permanently.

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