Where to start with yet another tone poem from Terrence Malick who was so revered in the seventies, made a comeback in the nineties, but since 2012 has been wallowing In his own quagmire of self indulgence. What happened? Or after three such films, does anybody care anymore? The film will have its followers, young film students or buffs who bow down at the altar of all things Malick because they feel like Kubrick he is being profound. Let’s be clear here Kubrick was profound, Malick is fast becoming just redundant and unnecessary. The entire work of major actors being left on the cutting room floor, jumbled, non-linear stories that go on incoherently, beautiful, images with actors utterly lost, how long before they start saying no to him?
If I read another piece comparing him to Kubrick, I might vomit. Kubrick he is not, not even close.
I see a lot of films in a year, great ones, good ones, so so ones, bad ones and then self indulgent dreck like this. These kind anger me the most because the time I spent in the cinema I will not ever get back, I feel cheated by films like this. But because Malick was given a budget, other films were not made, younger directors did not get their chance so we could endure another Malick masturbation fest. I once loved his films, now I dread them. The last three have killed any interest I once had in him.
Set in the Austin music scene, the movie is really about the muse that will set the next great song in motion. Oddly for a film set in the world of music, there is very little of it, as once again Malick tortures us with endless voice overs and inner monologues. This allows for virtually no chemistry between the actors at all. How could they possibly have chemistry when they are not even given characters to portray.
Malick obviously has a fascination with Rooney Mara’s body which is showcased in countless shots. She moves through the film with a blank stare on her face, utterly expressionless, never showing once the gifts that earned her Academy Award attention. Neither the gifted Michael Fassbender nor Ryan Gosling fare much better, never permitted the chance to develop characters or even be real. The only cast member to give an actual performance is Natalie Portman as a Texas firecracker who is drawn into the music scene. Portman is again remarkable, slipping into the character with ease, giving us the only semblance of a real character in the entire film. Not even the great Cate Blanchett can make an impression in the film.
Asked to improvise a great deal, the actors would state only that direction was very vague, nothing was precise. Actors need clarity, they need something to focus on, and while most enjoy the chance to improvise they expect a blue print of some kind. Without a strong hand guiding them, their own egos can go out of control or their insecurities will bring them down.
Vague, it is all very vague, and dull.
Only rocker Patti Smith gives the film any real jolt of energy, portraying herself she all but burns a hole in the screen with her stunning performance. The problem is she is not onscreen long enough to make her energy infectious.