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Knight of Cups
U.S.A. 2015

Opening 10 Sep 2015

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Writing credits: Terrence Malick
Principal actors: Christian Bale, Jason Clarke, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer

In case you’re intrigued by the title, the knight of cups is a character on a tarot card which shows a medieval knight sitting on a horse and holding a chalice. If you are dealt this card you are apparently searching for love and happiness and changes in your career. Presumably there is meant to be a comparison between the knight of cups and the main character in the movie.

If ever there was an unappealing film hero it is Rick (Christian Bale) in this movie. He meanders through it wallowing in self-absorption. Rick is a successful film screenwriter but he is also spoiled and bored and so busy looking inward that he makes no effort to connect with the people around him. He wanders through empty movie sets and is unresponsive when offered a new script to work on. He attends a Hollywood party hosted by Tonio (Antonio Banderas) and packed with movie people all eager to do business on the next movie deal; he hides away in one of the bedrooms to cavort with scantily clad women.

The movie drags on and finally there is a storyline. Nancy (Cate Blanchett) harangues Rick for his lack of commitment to their marriage and storms off. Why would a beauty like Nancy, who is clever enough to become a surgeon, hook up with a spineless creature like Rick? When another beauty, Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), has an affair with him, Rick doesn’t seem to derive any comfort from the situation or give any happiness to her. Nevertheless, a desperate Elizabeth decides to choose him over her husband. A further complication in Rick’s life is his relationship with his father Joseph (Brian Dennehy) and his brother Barry (Wes Bentley). Rick and Barry are saddened by the death of their brother Billy and smash up their father’s dining room, perhaps in grief or perhaps in frustration, it’s hard to tell.

The plot may be turgid but the film shuts are frenzied. A blink of the shutter and Rick is in a different location. He is walking in the desert and frolicking in the ocean a second later. These non-stop film clips continue throughout and provide the movie’s only redeeming feature as we get to see wonderful views of California. Apart from the beach and the desert we see fabulous houses and hotel rooms, which are usually filled with golden California babes, along with glimpses of Hollywood’s film studios and Las Vegas’s questionable glories.

Movies need a plot and interesting dialogue but this one doesn’t have either. Its saving grace is its wonderful photography which shows off the best of California’s stunning scenery along with some of its urban woes. Unfortunately good photography isn’t enough to save this overlong, pretentious mishmash of a movie, which ultimately leaves you feeling flummoxed because you can’t see the point of it. (Jenny Mather)

Second Opinion

Director Terrance Malick takes us down the path of stream of consciousness moving far away from conventional story telling. He has three powerful stars: Christian Bale, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett, who are all flowing in and out of the screen in a rhythmic way as the imaginary floats by in an architectural form. It is a film with heavy poetic uses, and if you cannot read into the Taro deck then you simply become lost in this film.

This showed at the 2015 Berlinale where, at the press conference, Christian Bale tried to explain that this is clearly about the city of L.A. and the characters are only present to help support the emotional and spiritual level of this film. Los Angeles develops into a gold fish bowl of experiences and is searching for something like an inner soul. Bale said that Terrance Malick is a unique story teller. He is on his own journey. The characters were given cameras to use and then their work would be edited in or not. At the Cinderella press conference (also at the 2015 Berlinale), Cate Blanchett even referred to the fact that she wasn’t even sure she was in the movie, Knight of Cups, since it was so abstractly made and the end result was even more unclear to the actors themselves.

All I could get out of the film was that it is about a guy wandering around L.A. having encounters with beautiful women from his past and members of his family. It was supposed to make some sort of sense out of life but I felt I was missing something and needed some sort of drugs from the Timothy O’Leary’s era to get into this film. It is one of the few films I have actually walked out of since I was beginning to feel seasick myself. It was 118 minutes long and felt like a short film that went on way too long. This film lacked the weight of Malik’s last film The Tree of Life, which was quite a hit. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

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