• For the first time in his career, Malick chooses a single character for his central figure. Christian Bale plays Rick, a writer in Hollywood, living out a sinful life filled with material excess, and spiritual emptiness.
  • After being cinema’s J.D. Salinger from 1978-1998—Malick is now firing almost at Woody Allen’s pace in the 2010s this is his third film of the decade already. This is his second straight film set in the modern day like To the Wonder. And this is not really about the dichotomy between violence in man and beauty found in nature like much of his work. This is about a lost soul.

Malick, one of the few correct answers to “Which director makes the most beautiful films in cinema history?” goes back to the lo-fi graininess here a few times.

It is like he is contractually obligated to include some old VHS segments. He needs to lose that. It makes me think that part of the problem here may be budget, and that he’s only allowed so much film stock?

  • Even if Knight of Cups falls woefully short of The Tree of Life, it is defiantly and undeniably auteur cinema—and even if his work is no longer a shoo-in for being one of the year’s most beautiful, you have to admire this dedication to his specific aesthetic. Malick has a vision like Ozu, Tarkovsky, Lynch, Wes Anderson- instantly recognizable by their style.

A stunning low-angle shot with neon lighting as a backdrop at the 5-minute mark

  • The temptation of the modern world is also Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Paolo Sorrentino makes movies like this including 2013’s The Great Beauty (certainly superior to Malick’s effort here). Knight of Cups would make for a great double-billing with either.
  • Despite having only one man at the center of his film, the cast is loaded with talented actors like Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy plays Bale’s father, Teresa Palmer and Imogen Poots play beauties that he has empty relationships with.
  • The chapter titles of the tarot cards (the moon, the hanged man, etc.) are not really signifying a formal break—they’re more like cutaways that make up art of Malick’s montage.
  • Ennui, wandering, apathy— the venues are parties, model shoots and cold, but luxurious hotel rooms.

Improvised (there’s no script) and impressionistic (very low average shot length)

Malick does seem energized again when the setting shifts from Los Angeles to Las Vegas during the film. He and Emmanuel Lubezki go to the low-angle shot often as part of the milieu- some superb shots of the fountains and man-made excess in Vegas. This ties the film not only to La Dolce Vita a little but the fall of the roman empire as well.

  • Recommend but not in the top 10 of 2015