Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars
In 1973 director Terrence Malick exploded onto the scene with the gritty film “Badlands.” He followed that up five years later with the beautifully photographed Oscar winner “Days of Heaven.” Then he disappeared. In 1998 he returned with a film called “The Thin Red Line,” which I best remember as a film with a lot of great actors walking through a jungle. 2005’s “The New World” featured Colin Farrell in a new telling of the Pocahontas story. And now he brings us a film that…I’m sorry, I really can’t explain it.
“There are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” With these words we are greeted by images of small town America, circa 1950’s. A woman is in the kitchen when a telegram arrives. Wordlessly she opens it and then drops to the floor. What follows for the next two hours is the way of the world told through the Gospel of Terrence Malick. The film unravels in three parts. Part one deals with the creation of the world. Planets and dinosaurs and the Big Bang and polar ice caps, all rendered in big screen glory so beautiful that they should run it in IMAX. Part two is the best part of the film, dealing with the O’Brien family. Mr. O’Brien (Pitt) is a loving dad who rules the house with equal parts love and discipline. He dotes on his three sons and demands the most of his oldest, Jack (McCracken). Jack is a lot like his dad, headstrong and compulsive. It is Jack that narrates this part of the film, often asking the questions all young boys have. When a young boy drowns he turns his questions to God, asking “where were You?” Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) looks on while the boys discover life, at the same time wondering about the road hers has taken her down. Part three is…well, like I said, you get a glimpse of Sean Penn.
While I was writing this I learned that “The Tree of Life” had won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. For those unfamiliar this is the equivalent of winning the Best Picture Academy Award. I can only assume that the judges were all cinematographers awarding a film consisting of Kodak moments. To me the film was, at best, incoherent. Dozens of characters pass by but, as very few of them speak, you have no idea who they are or what their purpose is. And I found it funny to see a long cast of characters in the final credits because I couldn’t tell you who Mrs. Kimball, Mrs. Stone or Mr. Brown were if you offered me cash money. On the positive side, the period detail by Production Designer Jack Fisk, who has worked with Malick on every film, is stunning, as is the photography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Malick has always been a visual filmmaker and the fact that three of his four previous films have earned Oscar nods for their cinematography is not a surprise (“Days of Heaven” won). But pretty pictures are not enough to keep you interested for two plus hours.