How many times do we need to see Terrence Malick tell the same pointless wisp of a story before someone starts to wonder if he has any other stories to tell at all? The director who many claim is some kind of cinematic genius has basically made the same movie three times in a row, with decreasing emotional and narrative returns: Tree of Life, followed by the meandering and shallow To the Wonder, and now the equally shapeless Knight of Cups breezes through and accomplishes nothing. Maybe it's that Malick is making movies solely for himself to enjoy, but if that's the case could he please keep them locked away in an attic somewhere like a reasonable person would do?
Knight of Cups once again features a man pondering the meaning of his life or something. And in Malick's world, this can only be accomplished by having Rick (Christian Bale) wandering around on beaches while the waves crash, hanging out in empty office buildings, and dilly-dallying with a number of hot women, each with less personality than the last. But then nobody really has any personality, they're too nebulous for that, Malick's narrative too shapeless to allow for such things.
It's not right to say that he has no idea what he's doing; he seems to have a rough idea of what he wants. It would be nice if he'd let us all in on what he's seeing, though. Rick glides wordlessly through L.A., mimicking mimes and hanging out with celebs. He's a man who is in show business, and that apparently has some impact on his life....just how isn't very clear. He meets a lot of famous people who pop up in meaningless cameos (Malick cut out like dozens more), and there's the suggestion that maybe that pointlessness is what Malick is trying to capture. Maybe. But then he clearly wants the women in Rick's life to have greater resonance, and yet they are of little value to cluing us in to Rick's dilemma.
While the passage of time seems irrelevant here, the film is divided into sections loosely centered on Rick's relationships. Wes Bentley plays Rick's brother, who harbors anger at their father (Brian Dennehy) for past wrongs. Cate Blanchett plays Rick's ex-wife, a doctor who cares for the physically deformed. Her interaction
with one disfigured man are like something from a completely different movie. Natalie Portman is a married woman Rick has an affair with; Teresa Palmer plays a vivacious young stripper, Freida Pinto is a supermodel he meets at a party, and then there's Imogen Poots and Isabel Lucas who just drift in and out of the film looking gorgeous but not adding much else.
Some will try to convince you Malick should be forgiven because, darnit, his images have such a poetic beauty to them, and if you look hard enough meaning can be found in them. That's, respectfully, a bunch of hooey. First of all, the credit for the film's visual artistry goes to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has been behind the camera for most of Malick's work. Second, while we can all appreciate the sight of beautiful people gallivanting under L.A.'s sun-kissed skies, there's little meaning to Bale wandering around mumbling about palm trees...which is a thing he actually does.
Rating: 1 out of 5