Genuinely mysterious writer/director Terrence Malick has truly come out of hiding and into the spotlight as he approaches his mid-70s and unfortunately this decision must have something to do with why his films have got so fabulously infuriating.
While it’s true that Badlands and Days of Heaven were masterworks 40-ish years ago, his comeback epics have all been long-winded, flawed and fiddled-with (The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life), and this latest effort (shot back-to-back with the similarly vague and maddening Knight Of Cups) is another pretentious step downwards.
A narrative in the sense that stuff sort of happens, although what actually does happen is never clear, this is mostly about Faye (Rooney Mara), who’s introduced having rough sex with strangers in montages as she gets around the Austin music scene (although no names are used and no one says the word ‘Texas’ either, meaning that you’ll be perplexed from the get-go). She prattles on in voiceover during scenes that might have had dialogue (but probably didn’t) as she gets into a relationship with Cook (Michael Fassbender) and also carries on an affair with a hopeful muso named BV (Ryan Gosling having trouble with the improvisational atmosphere).
None of this is especially obvious, and soon, for no apparent reason, she’s left Cook and is starting something else with a woman (Bérénice Malohe) she meets in a park, while Cook hooks up with a waitress (Natalie Portman), whom he introduces to group sex, and BV gets together with a melancholy lady played by no less than Cate Blanchett. All of them agonise about love, fate, creativity, religion, sexuality, forgiveness, spirituality and the whole damn thing in long, chopped-up, weirdly-edited sequences photographed with fish-eye-lens-type cameras, and there are IMAX-like or even Koyaanisqatsi-ish moments that look great. A shame they’re not in a better film, but they might keep you from dozing off. Or screaming.
Made without a script and shot with the actors in and around the 2012 Austin City Limits Festival (which is why the stars look a little younger and there are cameos by John Lydon, Patti Smith, some Red Hot Chili Peppers and a shirtless Iggy Pop), this is full of bits that might just keep you watching like, for example, Val Kilmer (not playing himself?) chain-sawing up a speaker and being dragged off by security (?). But 129 minutes worth of rich, idle, pretty drama queens warbling on about how hard their lives are and the burden of their messed-up relationships is simply too much to bear, and it’s frightening to consider that this was cut down from an original cut that lasted eight damn hours (gulp!).
Sorry Mr Malick but maybe it’s time for another 20-year hiatus.