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Knight of Cups Top 5

Manuel here with a short list about Terrence Malick’s most recent outing. Knight of Cups will sit alongside Tree of Life and To the Wonder in what we might call the director’s spiritual trilogy and however you felt about those last two outings will color how you see his latest. Since the film is a roving set of overlapping and interlocking duets—we follow Christian Bale’s Rick, a successful Hollywood writer through Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he has dalliances with beautiful women and deals with the demons that afflict all troubled artists—I figured I’d pick out 5 pairs of Malick collaborators that truly shine in this dreamy poem of a film.

Consider it our version of praising the parts while remaining underwhelmed (or just ill-equipped) to praise the sum...

5. Emmanuel Lubezki & Jack Fisk
Remember when we all bemoaned the fact that Chivo kept losing Oscars back in the Children of Men/The New World days? My how things have changed. Thankfully, as always, his work with Malick is resplendent. Along with Fisk, whose production design has created an empty, hollow shell of a world for Rick and his surroundings, Lubezki marries the ethereal natural world of Tree of Life with the uninviting city that is L.A. You can say many things about Malick’s films but they are never not a beauty to behold and Knight of Cups is no different with Chivo’s camera following and circling round the actors in ways both intrusive and indifferent.

4. Natalie Portman & Cate Blanchett
Bale’s Rick favors the young so it’s only fair I try to balance it out by singling his two older paramours. This is obviously my own bias speaking but it’d been too long since I’d seen Natalie looking so radiant and beautiful, let alone tackling a role like this that I was reminded why she fascinates me so much as an actress; I just love seeing her cry. Blanchett, of course, is sublime in a role that feels at times cut from the same cloth as her Jasmine (shooting-wise I think they were almost back to back?) if hampered, as do all the roles, really, by Malick’s intentional fragmentary assemblage.

3. Wes Bentley & Christian Bale
The Hunger Games. Welcome to Me. American Horror Story. Interstellar. Pete’s Dragon.
Is Bentley mounting the stealthiest, most unassuming comeback narrative in recent B-list actor history? As this list surely attests, I don’t quite think everything comes together in Knight of Cups but there are some amazing moments between Bale and Bentley (they play brothers) and much of that has to do with the ease which they establish the petty but friendly rivalry and tenderness that siblings bring out in one another. While Bale is all quiet introspection and brooding navel-gazing, Bentley is all frenzied energy and uncontainable emotion; they play off beautifully off of one another, both wounded in different ways over a past tragedy.

2. Jacqueline West
West needs and wants for no peer so we’ll leave her by herself at #2 because she clearly worked overtime in Malick’s latest. The 3-time Oscar nominee does the type of contemporary work that we should celebrate more often: subtle and unshowy yet wholly character and tone specific. Notice Rick’s endless supply of monochromatic suits and Blanchett’s cheerless wardrobe. That she has an entire ostentatious lawn party, a model photoshoot, and a Vegas getaway surely didn’t hurt. Everyone in West’s LA is stylish in an offhanded and often off-putting way, steely grays and spiky heels speaking volumes about who Rick stumbles into time and time and time again. My favorite piece? A purposeful out of place beige knitted sweater Portman wears in a climactic scene that had me as mesmerised.

1. Carter Schmitt & Robert Paulsen
But really, if anyone deserves the bulk of the praise for the strength of Knight of Cups (and here Malick is, of course, the implied added name in every one of these pairings), is the team that scouted the many locations in the most dazzling if terrifying vision of Los Angeles this side of Mulholland Dr. Schmitt and Paulsen (who alongside the location managers have already won an award for their work on this film) found every modernist inhospitable apartment and house available, every barren-looking street corner, and every oppressively empty warehouse to give Malick the canvas he needed for this meditation on loneliness. Exquisite, really.

Knight of Cups is now playing in limited release.

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Reader Comments (11)

I think this is Cate at her most subtle. What divine talent! She plays a real woman interacting with real people. The best segment of the film.

March 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

This was a fun and interesting post, even if the film sounds less than both.

March 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Tree of life was over-praised garbage, so I don't think I'll like this at all. With that said, I agree with you re: Portman. She really is a beautiful crier.

March 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I will bookmark this to read properly after I've finally had a chance to see the film (if I ever do, at this rate)

But I don't even care if it's 'minor' Malick. I just want it plugged into my veins, stat!

March 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Knight of Cups is a good example of critics' biases. It's just as bad as something like God's of Egypt and yet it managed a tomato meter over 50.

Get off Malick's nuts, people. He's a phony.

March 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTr

I find the movie pointless, rudderless, and rather boring.

March 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJans

I was liking this somewhat until the second half and it just became tedious. I especially liked in the first half was how it seemed like an entire movie made up of establishing shots. Which, I guess, works into your top placements.

March 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I had my fill of existential ennui back in the 70's, with Antonioni and the like. I just don't feel like I need to do it again. Besides there are nice beaches where I live, if I want to go watch the ocean I can do it for real.
I wish some critics would stop treating Malick as if he was God, it's really way past time.

March 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Wow!!! People are saying what I've been thinking about Malick and afraid to say it!!!

March 6, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

"an entire movie made up of establishing shots" is as great a description of KNIGHT OF CUPS as I've read. After watching the film, I just really wanted a Malick tour of Los Angeles. It'd be endlessly more entertaining than the film itself.

March 6, 2016 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

I am one of the rare people, at least that I've come across, that defended "To the Wonder" and this film is such garbage that I was second-hand embarrassed for everyone involved. The few people in the theater with me were mostly walking out in annoyance at the time and money wasted. Two people walked out after 30 minutes or so. No defense of Malick anymore. It isn't that his critics now don't "get" it. If you don't like arthouse work you won't go see him to begin with. It's that his stuff is stale, disjointed, his actors are meaningless and his characters in this are souless. Bale walks around the film for hours just looking miserable and that is the way the audience feels. He should really save money and just film people on the street next time

March 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSena

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