Cup overfloweth

Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is hard work at times. But it’s not nearly as bad as To The Wonder


Knight of Cups

STILL they queue, the starriest Hollywood heavyweights, all begging to work with Terrence Malick. The US’s most widescreen auteur is certainly one to tick off for any actor given the inimitability of his aesthetic and the sensuousness he conjured in films like The Thin Red Line or The New World. As for 2011’s The Tree of Life, it is one of the 21st Century’s great cinematic events.

But as glorious as Malick can be on his day, when he falls into laboured self-indulgence it can feel like being trapped in a two-hour perfume commercial (see – or rather don’t see – 2012’s To The Wonder). Knight of Cups, alas, is poised more-or-less squarely between the two Malicks meaning a sweeping, breeze-blown study of mortality and love that struggles to contain its expanses of ponderous, pretty tedium.

Positively plotty compared to To The Wonder, it charts the existential voyaging of Rick (Christian Bale), a successful Hollywood screenwriter re-evaluating life’s meaning and his relationship with his father and brother (Brian Dennehy and Wes Bentley). As ciphers, Rick looks to the women his heart encounters, among them Imogen Poots’ tearaway, Cate Blanchett’s ex-wife, Frieda Pinto’s model, a stripper played by Teresa Palmer and a married mistress played by Natalie Portman. Poor Rick.

Quite the cast, for sure, but Knight of Cups (a tarot reference) rather squanders the story asking to be told by drowning everything in religious symbolism and metaphor. It is full of Malick’s trademark flourish (swooping camera pans, enigmatic backdrops, murmured monologues) and dazzles in places. But two hours of “Malick does midlife crisis” is hard work.


First published in the Sunday Independent


Published by

Hilary A White

Dublin-based arts journalist and reviewer, specialising in film, books, music and human-interest stories. Sunday Independent / Irish Independent / / RTE Radio 1 / Today FM

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