‘Knight Of Cups’ Is An Auteur In Overdrive (Movie Review)

knight of cups thumbIt may be more worthwhile to examine the ‘what if’ scenario of what a superhero film directed by Terrence Malick would be like, rather than try to decipher his latest feature, Knight of Cups, but I’m going for it anyway. At the risk of repeating himself to the point of self-parody, one of the most elusive auteur directors has returned with an LA odyssey that could easily be rated ‘O’ for obscure. It almost defies reason to label the film as good or bad, but depending on one’s appreciation of Malick’s style as of late, there will be varying levels of tolerance for what this film has to offer.


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Made a few years ago and finally emerging from post-production, Malick’s The New World co-star Christian Bale takes the lead this time around as LA screenwriter Rick. We will never know how good of a screenwriter he is, but he has been successful enough to wander in and out of the LA party scene and have just enough presence to form several relationships. Think of Rick’s life as the arthouse version of Entourage and you’ll know exactly what to expect.

To his credit, Malick does little to blur the lines of his narrative. Rick is awfully stoic and distant throughout this film, but there are handy chapter titles to give you a sense of what is going on. This may or may not work for those who feel Malick delivered his magnum opus with The Tree of Life, but you can at least be thrilled by the decision to provide a sense of order to this often ponderous film.

It helps to see many talented performers doing their best to shake up the lost soul that is Bale’s character. Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy serve as Rick’s younger brother and father, while Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto and Teresa Palmer all factor in as relationships Rick was effected by. Do any of them stand out? Not particularly, but with the use of whispered narration and lots of sauntering, Knight of Cups does not allow for the showiest of performances.


I often found myself comparing this film to the Sean Penn scenes in Tree of Life, but there is fortunately more at play here. We get to watch Rick turn new corners in a way that is far more intriguing than the various rock formations Penn’s character came across, with a better handle on why each segment of the film has some sort of importance. Even if the overall takeaway did not bend my mind in any way I found worth losing sleep over, I can say there was a serene feeling throughout my viewing experience.

That is largely due to 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, who returns to film another shine his camera on another Malick-inspired world. Knight of Cups takes you on what is easily one of the most beautiful trips through LA you will have ever gone on. Instead of distracting from the remnants of a story being told, we are illuminated to the idea of wanting to pay more attention, given how good Bale’s surroundings constantly look.

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An accomplishment like no other, Malick could be one of cinema’s greatest practical jokers if his films did not seem so sincere in what they are trying to deliver. While some may have grown to find Malick’s style insufferable, I am far more willing to give credit to the ambition of breaking away from tradition to fuel one’s own idea of how to best realize the desired story to tell. Of course, as a fan of the Malick films considered more traditional (Badlands) and his more recent abstract ventures (Tree of Life), I do still have to weigh what this film has to offer overall.

Knight of Cups may lack the majesty of what I personally find most affecting in the other works of Malick, but I still found it interesting. Not a film that everyone will be inclined to embrace, but there is plenty put on display to make you wonder why this exists in the first place. An odd line of thinking, but this film isn’t exactly ‘normal’.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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