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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Terrence Malick

02.29.2016
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 Last week, we took a look at the career of leading lady Kate Winslet. This week, we go to the other side of the camera to explore the career of one of the most enigmatic film figures of our time...
Terrence Malick
terrence malick

For years, Terrence Malick was a kind of film deity, only spoken about in hushed tones by devoted film scholars and fans. His reputation was based entirely on his first two, unanimously acclaimed films – BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN. Having begun his career as a writer-for-hire on movies like the Jack Nicholson-directed DRIVE, HE SAID, the Paul Newman-Lee Marvin vehicle POCKET MONEY, and the cult-hit THE DION BROTHERS, his films as a director were highly idiosyncratic, even for the notoriously adventurous “New Hollywood” of the seventies.

colin farrell the new world

While he never even earned an Oscar nomination until THE THIN RED LINE, his reputation was gargantuan, but then – at the height of his success – he vanished. For twenty years, Malick never made another film and moreover was never photographed, turned-down interviews and was otherwise hard to find. Many called him a hermit, others thought he had lost his mind. It turned out neither instance was the case, but Malick did indeed suffer from shyness, something that might have put him at odds with the party-Hollywood circuit of the time.

sean penn tree of life

He eventually came back – big time – with THE THIN RED LINE, which had the misfortune to come out hot on the heels of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and was somewhat overlooked at the time. Importantly, it seemed to reawaken Malick’s desire to make movies, with his follow-up, THE NEW WORLD, coming out comparatively quick for Malick – seven years later and then TREE OF LIFE six years after that. Nowadays, Malick is more prolific than he’s ever been, having shot TO THE WONDER in 2012, and this week’s KNIGHT OF CUPS and the upcoming WEIGHTLESS simultaneously. While his style has grown even more elliptical as he’s gotten older, he still attracts A-list talent willing to work for scale and even if they’re divisive, his movies are considered an event.

His Best Work
richard gere days of heaven

I had never seen DAYS OF HEAVEN until the summer of 2014. In a way this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it took a restored, 4K copy coming to my city in order to finally get me to watch it. Malick’s movies are always best enjoyed theatrically, and DAYS OF HEAVEN washed-over me in a unique way. Having gotten used to his later work, I was surprised by how emotional and intense DAYS OF HEAVEN was at times, with Richard Gere and Sam Shepard giving star making performances as men battling for the heart of migrant worker, Brooke Adams. Beautifully evoking farm-life in the early twentieth century, this is a magnificent work, although like Malick’s other films it’s also best enjoyed on the big screen (I was lucky enough to see a 16MM copy of BADLANDS once – I’ve yet to experience THIN RED LINE in theaters).

His Most Overrated Film
ben affleck rachel mcadams to the wonder

TO THE WONDER is a film that upset me at the time. I caught it in the midst of a ten-day film binge at TIFF (not the best way to enjoy a Malick) and while I pride myself on my patience with movies like this, it left me cold. Being a major Malick fan, I found that disturbing, as if I had somehow gotten out of synch with his work. It has moments of genius (any scene with Javier Bardem) but overall it struck me as empty – something I took a lot of heat about in the talkbacks from Malick fans. The movie divided critics (as has KNIGHT OF CUPS) but some – notably Roger Ebert in his last-ever review – loved it.

His Most Underrated Film
stacey keach frederic forrest the dion brothers

THE DION BROTHERS (aka THE GRAVY TRAIN) may not be fair to include as Malick was only the writer. In fact, Malick worked under a pseudonym (David Whitney) implying he wasn’t happy with the finished film, but damn if THE DION BROTHERS isn’t one of the lost gems of the seventies. I first heard about this one during the early days of Ain’t It Cool News, during their coverage of Quentin Tarantino’s Austin-held film festivals, which he used to do periodically between JACKIE BROWN and KILL BILL. QT always ranked this as one of his favorites and it’s easy to see why. A comic gangster story about the titular Dion Brothers, played by Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest, who help pull off a big heist but then have to chase their former partners down in order to get their share of the loot. It’s a bizarre but great film, loaded with action and big-laughs, including a masterful scene where Keach and Forrest use some of their ill-gotten gains to dine at a fancy French bistro only to order hamburgers and beer. It also manages to turn on a dime, with some real heart thrown in and a surprising, tear-jerker finale. Sadly this one is tough to track down (legitimately) although it shows up on Crackle (of all places) now and then and can be torrented.

His Best Scene

If Malick’s filmic philosophy can be summed up in one scene, it’s in the “each standing in the other’s light” scene from THE THIN RED LINE, where a battle turns into a slaughter and speaks volumes about the brutality and futility of war – all beautifully photographed by John Toll and scored by Hans Zimmer. 

 

His Five Best Films

5. THE NEW WORLD
4. TREE OF LIFE
3. THE THIN RED LINE
2. BADLANDS
1. DAYS OF HEAVEN

Up Next

Even though WEIGHTLESS is supposed to be done, Malick’s been known to tinker with movies for months-to-years, so it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll eventually see it. Some think a Cannes berth may be a possibility, or TIFF thereafter, but I wouldn’t bet on it. His long-awaited VOYAGE OF TIME IMAX doc (a project he’s been working on for thirty years) also might come out this year in two versions – a forty minute IMAX version narrated by Brad Pitt and a feature-length 35MM version narrated by Cate Blanchett.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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9:17AM on 02/29/2016
Malick is a great director with a very unique vision and style. His films are a specific taste though. A style element of his film making is that things are drawn out and slow, he lets the setting tell the story more than the dialogue, his films are atmospheric and the cinematography is a crucial element to Malick films.
The Thin Red Line goes on and on, it almost gets a bit boring, you're waiting for plot to develop. That is not Malick's style. When he did The New World with Colin
Malick is a great director with a very unique vision and style. His films are a specific taste though. A style element of his film making is that things are drawn out and slow, he lets the setting tell the story more than the dialogue, his films are atmospheric and the cinematography is a crucial element to Malick films.
The Thin Red Line goes on and on, it almost gets a bit boring, you're waiting for plot to develop. That is not Malick's style. When he did The New World with Colin Ferrell, it was very much the same deal. The outdoor landscapes, fields etc set a mood, a temperature of the film. I actually put Terrance Malick in a category with Stanley Kubrick, another director who doesn't rush things and doesn't chop up great shots for massive edits. Malick is the type of director to do several lengthy tracking shots and then assemble them as a montage minus any dialogue. Most directors wouldn't dare.
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12:25AM on 02/29/2016
I became a Malick fan a few years ago thanks to the great releases Criterion has done for his earlier films (and with The New World just getting announced). Like you, I also couldn't get into To the Wonder and can't quite pinpoint why. I almost forgot Knight of Cups was coming out, but with my luck it probably won't be playing near me.
I became a Malick fan a few years ago thanks to the great releases Criterion has done for his earlier films (and with The New World just getting announced). Like you, I also couldn't get into To the Wonder and can't quite pinpoint why. I almost forgot Knight of Cups was coming out, but with my luck it probably won't be playing near me.
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