A writer indulging in all that Los Angeles and Las Vegas has to offer undertakes a search for love and self via a series of adventures with six different women.
There is no doubt that Terrence Malick is a talented filmmaker and most directors could retire happy if they’d made even one film approaching the quality of ‘Badlands’ or ‘The Thin Red Line’, never mind two. Malick left it 25 years between his second film, ’Days of Heaven’ and ‘The Thin Red Line’ and perhaps another hiatus is in order as his recent output is increasingly becoming a series of diminishing returns. Malick’s films have always been visually arresting and impeccably crafted and ‘Knight of Cups’ is both, but somewhere in his last three films he’s forgotten the importance of at least a semblance of a narrative and we’re lift with a wispy, ethereal drama with little of consequence to say. ‘The Thin Red Line’ was successful because it married Malick’s visual approach with the consequences of war and it powerfully used both narrative and visual style to deliver effectively on its themes. ‘Knight of Cups’ has its themes but the connection isn’t there and the end result is disjointed and ultimately boring.
‘Knight of Cups’ follows a depressed screenwriter, Rick (Christian Bale), as he moves around Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a search for meaning and love, interacting with several women along the way and attending numerous parties and nightclubs. The film explores the decadence of Hollywood, where people have too much money to the extent they can’t build meaningful and long lasting relationships as they hurtle from one hedonistic experience to another. Elements of this are powerful and there are valuable stories to be told in this environment, but Malick’s style draws you away from the narrative for endless cutaways to random images and brief scenes of little consequence. It’s frankly frustrating to watch a film that takes this approach, and whilst the narrative is not always the most important component of a film, it does play a part and it’s almost as if Malick purposely rejects it to test how far the audience is willing to stick with him. After ‘The Tree of Life’, ‘To The Wonder’ and now this, I’m one viewer that’s just about done.
Bale’s character anchors the film and he plays his part well, as much as one can in a film as fragmented and meandering as ‘Knight of Cups’. The film is split into eight chapters named after tarot cards (the ‘Knight of Cups’ from the title is also a tarot card), all detailing Rick’s experiences and encounters with a variety of different people. Most of these characters aren’t particularly well developed but they do provide opportunities for the excellent ensemble to shine, with Cate Blanchett the standout as Rick’s ex-wife. One thing I did particularly enjoy was Hanan Townshend’s score which did a good job of creating a certain emotive atmosphere and in tying the various segments together.
‘Knight of Cups’ is another Terrence Malick film that is likely to divide opinion and that is no bad thing, but when your audience loses sight of what you’re trying to achieve it needs to have something interesting about it to keep them coming back. ‘Knight of Cups’ is both impenetrable and dreadfully mundane and I found it a real struggle to get through.
Directed By: Terrence Malick
Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Wes Bentley, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Cherry Jones, Nick Offerman, Thomas Lennon, Dane DeHaan, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ben Kingsley