Let’s not twist again

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

KNIGHT OF CUPS Di­rected by Ter­rence Mal­ick. Star­ring Chris­tian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Port­man, Brian Den­nehy, Wes Bent­ley, Imo­gen Poots, Teresa Palmer. Club, IFI mem­bers, 118 min

Ter­rence Mal­ick cre­ated two Amer­i­can mas­ter­pieces – Bad­lands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978) – be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing from the moviev­erse for some 20 years. He re­turned with The Thin Red Line, a lush, star-stud­ded war movie that man­aged to make you think ‘Wow’, even when the shut-up-pable voiceover be­came too airy-fairy and the shots of par­rots be­came too pon­der­ous. The New World, re­leased in 2005, im­proved on his 1998 re­turn. But some­where be­tween The Tree of Life (2011) and To The Won­der (2012) Mal­ick has swerved in­creas­ingly to­ward self-par­ody.

To The Won­der begged the ques­tion: just how many more shots of women twirling on coast­lines am I go­ing to have to watch? Knight of Cups sounds the an­swer: too damned many. Chris­tian Bale stars as Rick, an ill-de­fined Hol­ly­wood player with a seem­ing com­pul­sion to watch his var­i­ous girl­friends spin around at the sea­side. These in­clude Natalie Port­man as an angsty, in­tro­spec­tive mar­ried woman, Cate Blanchett as Rick’s angsty, in­tro­spec­tive ex-wife, and Imo­gen Poots as an angsty, in­tro­spec­tive pros­ti­tute. Teresa Palmer’s strip­per and Frieda Pinto’s model are less angsty but still apt to pirou­ette wildly at any given mo­ment.

Rick has a brother (Wes Bent­ley) and a fa­ther (Brian Den­nehy) who pop up pe­ri­od­i­cally be­tween twirling scenes: their char­ac­ters ev­i­dently don’t want to be in the movie. Var­i­ous mus­ings, from all par­ties, as mum­bled over the im­ages, can only be de­scribed as Zen codol­ogy. A priest played by Ar­min Mueller-Stahl pops up to say some­thing about suf­fer­ing. Ben Kings­ley reads from the 1678 Chris­tian al­le­gory The Pil­grim’s Progress. Tarot cards di­vide the film into nom­i­nal chap­ters. Then ran­dom thing, ran­dom thing and ran­dom thing.

Knight of Cups is pretty: any ran­dom 15 sec­onds could dou­ble as a pre­ten­tious per­fume com­mer­cial; any ran­dom 15 min­utes could pass as a hi­lar­i­ous Mal­ick send-up. But over two hours, even with the great Em­manuel Lubezki ( Chil­dren of Men, Grav­ity, The Revenant) be­hind the cam­era, the ef­fect is like be­ing nailed into a chair in front of a wash­ing ma­chine stuck on rinse cy­cle.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, this mess of track­ing shots of deserts, roads and ro­tat­ing love in­ter­ests stub­bornly re­fuses to co­a­lesce into any­thing re­sem­bling a nar­ra­tive film. Nei­ther is it avant-garde enough to func­tion as ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Let’s not twist again.

Natalie Port­man: one of those mum­bling over the im­ages

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