I watched this with Deanna in Edmonton in early April, under less-than-ideal conditions (noxious fumes permeating the theatre), so my review isn’t trustworthy until I watch it again.
Like To the Wonder (Terence Malick’s last film), Knight of Cups has been poorly received by critics. Partly this is due simply to the fact that it’s a very typical Malick film, with frequent meditative voiceovers and dream-like sequences; it’s more poetry than narrative and many critics think this is getting old. I don’t agree. I think the film industry hugely benefits from filmmakers like Malick who masterfully take film in new directions.
Having said that, I don’t think Knight of Cups is Malick’s strongest film. Perhaps because of the fumes, I found that Knight of Cups had fewer profound ideas and insights than Malick’s previous films, something that is essential for my enjoyment of a film like this (under better viewing conditions, I might have just let the gorgeous images and enigmatic dialogue in Knight of Cups wash over me like the waves in the film, but …)
In what appears to be another autobiographical film (the third in a row, beginning with Tree of Life), Malick is represented by Rick (played by Christian Bale), a young man struggling to find meaning in life in Los Angeles, where he is working as a screenwriter.
The film is divided into chapters named after tarot cards, with each chapter focusing on a failed relationship with a different woman (including his ex-wife, played by Cate Blanchett). Rick, it seems, is quite the womanizer. Woven among these failed relationships is Rick’s also failed relationship with his father (brilliantly played by Brian Dennehy, the only actor whose talents weren’t under-utilized in this film) and brother (Wes Bentley).
But, as already said, Knight of Cups doesn’t have a plot. It’s about life, meaning, lost opportunities, relationships, and celebrity, all suffused with religious overtones which make the film that much more fascinating for me. With the world’s greatest cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki) on hand to give us a new look at L.A., we are invited to see and experience life through Malick’s unique vision. That’s good enough for me. Once I see Knight of Cups without the fumes, I will likely award it ***+, but for now I will only commit to somewhere between *** and ***+. My mug is up.