Star Rating:

Knight Of Cups

Director: Terrence Malick

Actors: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto

Release Date: Friday 6th May 2016

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 118 minutes

Peak Malick? The reclusive writer-director is always going to give the fans exactly what they expect but there’s something off since The Tree of Life. Maybe that’s down to his latest protagonists. Malick used to write about underdogs – the couple on the run in Badlands, poor panhandlers in Days of Heaven, frightened soldiers in The Thin Red Line, star-crossed lovers in The New World, and a boy who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his stern father in The Tree of Life.

But To The Wonder had successful businessman Ben Affleck front and centre with an existential crisis of choosing between two women, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams. Boo-hoo. In Knight of Cups Christian Bale’s flash screenwriter stumbles about lavish apartments and mansions as he contemplates his past relationships with a bevy of beautiful women. It’s hard to root for that.

With echoes of a spiritual sequel (how removed is that?) to Malick’s 2011 opus, Bale’s Rick is at times a further exploration of Sean Penn’s character in The Tree of Life. Rick has just reconnected with his brother, Wes Bentley’s Barry struggling with mental stability and, what is alluded to, a drug problem. Both have issues with their cold and distant father, Brian Dennehy, which could be down to the fallout from a third brother who died/committed suicide. As Bale wanders about the streets of LA and Vegas, attending well-to-do parties, he reflects on the emptiness of his existence and mistakes he’s made - mostly not loving the women in his life the way he should have (ex-wife Blanchett, married Portman, model Pinto, kooky Imogen Poots and stripper Teresa Palmer).

Although we do get the expected philosophical and spiritual contemplation, and there’s a deep-in-thought Bale wandering about the desert, Knight of Cups has Malick try different things, like moving from the cornfields he loves to a more urban setting. The beautiful but sterile buildings, the high class but ultimately empty apartments, and the neon Vegas strip clubs are photographed in typical woozy fashion but the director can’t make his visuals pop like he usually does.

More narratively fractured than usual, Knight of Cups is a real puzzle. Spilt up into chapters (The Moon, The Hangman, The Priestess and so on) but the beginning, middle and end are all tossed into the salad at the same time. Various characters trade voiceovers (Ben Kingsley narrates a story about a prince and a pearl) but the whispered thoughts of one character could easily be swapped with another – they are all saying the same thing. Despite the roll call of famous names (Antonio Banderas and more turn up) there is really only one character here.

It all adds up to be the most uninvolving Malick film yet. Watch the trailer instead – that’s the film.