There was a time when I looked forward to Terrence Malick’s movies, infrequent as they are, because, for all his infuriating artiness, he has a way of seeing that’s unlike any other director’s. At his best, in films like “Badlands” and snatches of some of his others, he evokes a trancelike lyricism. But his films, starting especially with “The Tree of Life” and the unfortunate “To the Wonder,” have become increasingly somnolent – privatized meditations about life and death and the meaning of it all.
“Knight of Cups” isn’t quite as fancy-flimsy as “To the Wonder,” which, as I remember it, consisted mostly of Ben Affleck gazing dazedly at wave formations, but it’s close enough. Christian Bale plays a Hollywood screenwriter, at least that’s what he thinks he is, who endures a life of swank movie-colony parties and babes flinging themselves at him (among those playing the “babes”: Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and Freida Pinto) while, on the soundtrack, we hear his (or somebody’s) voice-over bemoaning the sad state of existence. Audiences may beg to differ with him: If you’re going to suffer, there are worse ways than being pursued by someone who looks like Freida.
Malick’s movie, with its recurring passages of Edvard Grieg and others on the music track, may seem high-toned, but he’s pushing the same old cliché about the soullessness of the material life versus the spirituality of a life lived apart from such corruptions. Since Bale’s character doesn’t exhibit any inner spiritual life to begin with, his disillusion here rings false.
I used to think it was a good thing that Malick made movies like no one else’s. Maybe he should try being a bit more derivative next time. Grade: C (Rated R for some nudity, sexuality, and language.)