Review: Knight of Cups
PLOT: A Hollywood writer reflects on family, lovers and his life.
REVIEW: If you are not a fan of Terrence Malick, his latest feature will not change your mind. KNIGHT OF CUPS is many things. It’s pretentious. It’s beautiful. In fact, it’s a lot of everything. There’s a real decadence in this take on a writer lost in the excess of Hollywood. Bouncing from relationship to relationship, Christian Bale’s Rick connects to numerous lovers as well as family. And yes, in true Malick style, they rarely speak. With all the lingering shots of Rick walking on the beach, or fighting with his family, I ultimately found myself fascinated and even frustrated by the experience. This is the rare film that will quite literally have audience members walking out, with many others hypnotized by the beauty of it all.
If you are looking for a plot, you won’t find that here. I’ve always felt that Malick’s style was what you could call cinematic poetry. The images are stunning, yet you can easily feel like not a damn thing happened. In KNIGHT OF CUPS, Rick (Bale) attends meetings and parties, he shares physical moments with his lovers. He also constantly in the middle of the fights between his father and brother. There’s no script really, just ideas that can be as simple as two people walking together in silence. We don’t fully understand the battles that rage between Rick, his brother Barry (Wes Bentley) and their father Joseph (Brian Dennehy). And we also rarely have any real knowledge about the many women Rick engages romantically with. Stuff just happens.
If you’d ask why this appeals to me, you could start with the gorgeous cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki and Malick gloss over the shallowness of Hollywood in a surprisingly intimate way. There are wild images of stunning women - sometimes naked - and the landscape of both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It is at times like a rare work of art, one that catches your eye. Some may want to linger on the images and find meaning in it, others may see nothing except a need to look at their watch. Similar in some ways to Malick’s recent TO THE WONDER, the new film is simply fragments of one man’s life. And since his life is in Hollywood, there are equal bits of glamour and pretension.
In the leading role, Christian Bale is a terrific choice to exist in Malick’s stylized vision. Yet as much as it is his memories that are explored, there are a few performances that really stand out. Wes Bentley plays Rick’s brother Barry. He is the less successful son to their father Joseph (Dennehy). And let’s just say there is a whole lot of yelling going on - even if we don’t hear any of that dialogue. It’s a ton of music and sweeping shots of the trio in a variety of locations with music but no other sound. That’s why both Dennehy and Bentley really stand out. Without hearing why they are at odds, there is much said in their expression and body language. Both of these talented actors give nuanced and heartbreaking performances.
Another stand out here is the luminous Teresa Palmer. I’ve enjoyed her work before, but the chemistry she has with Bale is fantastic. Out of all the relations of his the film explores - this includes Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto and Natalie Portman - this was the one that really connected. When Rick meets Karen - a stripper - there is an instant connection. This was probably the most fun to watch, as some of the romances are a tad bleak. Palmer is fiercely alive here and is an absolutely joy to watch. It is not at all hard to see why Rick would have feelings for her. In a star-studded cast including Blanchett, Portman, Antonio Banderas, Imogen Poots, Jason Clarke, Joel Kinnaman and Clifton Collins Jr., it is especially impressive how damn watchable Palmer, Bentley and Dennehy really are.
KNIGHT OF CUPS is equal parts artificial, genuine, gorgeous, infuriating and captivating. If you are not a fan of Malick, don’t even waste your time. For those of us that enjoy his work, the high brow self importance of Hollywood may be a little off-putting, however that may be one of its charms. For all the decadence on display, there is an undercurrent of darkness that lingers. While this is far from my favorite from the writer/director, it is still slightly more intriguing than TO THE WONDER. It was also especially exciting to see both Bentley and Palmer really shine in different aspects of Bale’s life. Their performances are absolutely terrific. It may not be Malick’s masterpiece but, for fans, it is definitely worth experiencing.
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