If you ever had the particular urge to watch Christian Bale suck on Natalie Portman’s toes, then this just might be the film for you. Otherwise, Knight of Cups is another maddeningly self-indulgent misfire from celebrated filmmaker Terrence Malick.
Screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) resides in Los Angeles where he tries to make sense of numerous things; the sudden suicide of his brother, his troublesome family, the film industry, and the seeming revolving door of women who enter and exit his life amid the hedonistic L.A. existence.
It’s no more than one minute into Knight of Cups before we see Christian Bale stumbling around aimlessly and staring into the middle distance as captured by Emmanuel Lubezki’s signature Malickian wide angle lens while accompanied by a breathy Bale voice-over. Yes, it’s To the Wonder Redux in many regards, but at least there’s not as much ceaseless twirling this time, even if Freida Pinto makes a fair effort of it. Though difficult to call boring, from the hilariously portentous narration to the dreamlike unfurling of the plot, almost every single scene rings hollow, a sort of faux-poetry that just doesn’t invite much feeling, a few scattered moments of serenity notwithstanding.
The film’s predictably unqualified triumph, however, is Lubezki’s stellar lensing, even though he can only do so much when tethered to a filmmaker as aggressively obtuse as Malick. The diverse and game cast will also keep auds perked up, what with Imogen Poots, Wes Bentley, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Cherry Jones, Teresa Palmer and Natalie Portman showing up among others, while the likes of Joe Manganiello, Jason Clarke and Michael Wincott appear briefly in a scene that literally suggests Malick just ambushed a swanky Hollywood party and filmed whoever showed up. Composer Hanan Townshend also gets a few points for heavily contributing to any palpable positive feeling the movie so fleetingly generates.
Above all else, Knight of Cups is a testament to the astonishing things Terrence Malick can get actors to do under the pretense of art. Sadly, it just doesn’t suggest he has many new or interesting ideas, but if it’s a bad movie, at least it’s pretty to look at and astonishingly awful in its own entrancing way.
Knight of Cups is in US cinemas March 4th