Berlinale: Knight of Cups

"Knight of Cups"
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Joe Lo Truglio and Nick Offerman

by Joanna Orland

Terrence Malick films tend to evoke the feeling of intruding in on someone’s memories. In Knight of Cups, these memories belong to slave to Hollywood Rick (Christian Bale) as series of events from his life flash before the audience’s eyes, abstract and ethereal, strung together by fragments of voiceover. Rick is searching for fulfillment in life, once having mistaken his career success as a fill for this void, but ultimately realizing it not to be the answer. It’s not only his career that he turns to in search of fulfillment, but Rick is a womanizer. Women in his life come and go with the wind, but there are a few that leave a strong impact, and these women are explored rather shallowly in Knight of Cups.

Structured using Tarot Cards as chapter headings for the film, Knight of Cups at first is evocative and intriguing, beautiful in its abstraction, carried by the fascinating Christian Bale in the role of Rick. To film Knight of Cups, director Terrence Malick did not provide his actors with a script. Bale worked through his character’s backstory with Malick, and was often encouraged to react to situations thrown at him as Rick, rather than to follow any structured story or dialogue. Bale was also at times given a GoPro camera to run amok and film life in the shoes of Rick. I’d be curious to see how much raw footage ended up on the cutting room floor in this epic montage of nonsense.

Again, the film starts strong, as captivating as the beautiful Tree of Life.  Sadly, there is a very key turning point in Knight of Cups where the film completely derails, losing the hold it nearly has on its audience. This turning point is the arrival of Cate Blanchett. Normally I am a fan of the actress, but Malick has once again, as he did with To The Wonder, created misogynist roles for women, shallow, underdeveloped and only present to further his flawed male lead. Something about the female voiced character arcs leave a sour taste, completely withdrawing the viewer from the immersion felt at the start of the film. The female characters are two-dimensional, shallow and vulgar.

One supporting character that actually adds to the narrative is Rick’s brother played by Wes Bentley. This is very good casting and an actual point of interest in the long and drawn out story of Rick. Bale and Bentley are really the only two well cast roles. The ensemble of Knight of Cups is oddly padded with cameos from a bizarre choice of actors such as Antonio Banderas and a gaggle of television comedians including Joe Lo Truglio and Nick Offerman. Now, I love these actors, especially Nick Offerman, but they have no business being in this film.

Towards the end of Rick’s journey, I literally did not care if he found his way or not. I walked out with only 10 minutes left to go in Rick’s search for fulfillment, with the intention to never relive the memory of Rick’s journey again. #KoC

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