[This post will be updated with more reviews and excerpts as I discover them.]

Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups screened at Berlinale today.

And since Looking Closer readers have, historically, been more excited about and more interested in Malick than any other director, it’s worth paying attention.

Here come the reviews…


Slant (Fujishima)

With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick achieves the sense of stylistic ossification that many accused his last feature, To the Wonder, of embodying. The difference is that the earlier film was still, in its own rather elemental ways, tied to actual flesh-and-blood characters on screen. In Knight of Cups, by contrast, Malick seems to have finally decided to do away with humans altogether. In some ways, this is the filmmaker’s 8 ½: a feature-length riff on his own creative frustration, with Christian Bale as his directionless stand-in, a screenwriter suffering from spiritual ennui. But then, of course he’s bored and frustrated: He lives in Hollywood, after all, and if works like The Day of the Locust and The Player have shown us anything over the years, what else is Hollywood but a cesspool of decadence and empty hedonism?

Knight of Cups


Variety (Chang)

Malick remains concerned almost entirely with interior states; with the spiritual connections that are forged and ruptured between individuals; and with the grim consequences of a life lived in continual exposure to the world and its most corrupt elements. (In that respect, one movie it clearly recalls is Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” another example of an auteur employing a highly specific, image-driven cinematic language to explore celebrity ennui.) It’s a moralistic stance that may in and of itself cause certain viewers to recoil, particularly when Dennehy’s earnest, prayerful father figure and Armin Mueller-Stahl as a grave-looking priest are on hand to nudge Rick back toward the straight and narrow.

Those tarot references aside, Malick’s view remains a deeply and unapologetically Christian one; Rick’s story may echo that of the lost knight, but it also has obvious roots in the parable of the prodigal son, and throughout “Knight of Cups” you can just about make out the voice of a father patiently, insistently calling his wayward child home. It’s that instinctive compassion that keeps the film from turning crushingly didactic, along with the myriad aesthetic pleasures afforded by the Malick’s typically dense layering of image, sound and music.


indieWire (Jessica Klang)

Those of us who had hoped that “Knight of Cups” might see Malick changing tack a bit after the progressive steps toward a far-off horizon that were “The Tree of Life” (which, if you’re wondering, I loved) and “To The Wonder” (which I did not) are bound for disappointment, as his new film finds him more abstruse than ever, and more involved with existential questions which are beautiful, vital, universal, and also completely unanswerable.


Movie Mezzanine (Michael Pattison)

With vacant eyes and mouth agape, man continues his seemingly irrevocable fall from innocence, in Terrence Malick’s eternally juvenile seventh feature Knight of Cups.

Indeed, Malick takes the kind of dramatic displacement that he so dangerously let free in To the Wonder to another level entirely here, dragging what scant storyline there is by the scruff of its reluctant neck, capturing some startling images along the way as he allows platonic ideals to stand in for the real thing. Beautiful women on balconies and on beaches; a self-suffering protagonist; declining marriages and tension-fuelled familial relationships. As one character claims late on in this folly, “no one cares about reality anymore.” The obvious refrain to which, of course, is “speak for yourself.”


indieWire (Eric Kohn)

Still, there’s something inspiring about the take-no-prisoners approach of Malick’s cosmic vision, which follows its own path. In the context of a story about the restrictions of commercially-mandated filmmaking, it may be the closest we get to a mission statement in the elusive director’s career.

But even if one goes with the flow and embraces its underlying thematic focus, “Knight of Cups” falls short of sustaining a coherent stance. While its formalism resembles “To the Wonder” and “The Tree of Life,” it lacks their singular focus. By distilling his appeal to its most rudimentary elements, Malick regularly lingers on the cusp of self-parody. Rick’s struggle has its moments of magical splendor, but just as frequently feels as hazy as the diminished memory of that fabled knight.


Hollywood Reporter (Todd McCarthy)

Having swung so far out of orbit on To the Wonder to have been sucked into a creative black hole,Terrence Malick makes it about half-way back to terra firma with Knight of Cups. A resolutely poetic and impressionist film about creative paralysis, indecision, father and sons, female muses and life slipping away as surely as water down a river, the seventh feature from this takes-his-time writer-director is far more partial to free association and stream-of-consciousness notations than to conventional storytelling. The upshot is a certain tedium and repetitiveness along with the rhythmic niceties and imaginative riffs. But whereas his last work of real weight, The Tree of Life, achieved rarified moments of emotional and lyrical expressiveness, this one mostly operates on a more dramatically mundane, private and even narcissistic level.


The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw)

With his latest film Knight of Cups, however, Malick has frankly declined. There are moments of visual brilliance here, moments of reverence and even grandeur. He is always distinctive, and anything he does must be of interest. But his style is stagnating into mannerism, cliche and self-parody. Where once he used his transcendant visual language to evoke heartland America, these tropes are now exposed in being applied to tiresome tinseltown LA, where a screenwriter played by Christian Bale undergoes what has to be the least interesting spiritual crisis in history.


Little White Lies (Sophie Monks Kaufman)

Knight of Cups is glistening pearl from Terrence Malick is a blissful, transcendent and desolate treatise on love.

The most anticipated film of Berlinale 2015 looks set to be the best one. It’s hard to imagine equivalent notes of grace and meaning being struck in this competition or indeed in this world. Grace and meaning are not new adjectives for describing the work of writer/director Terrence Malick but, gratifyingly, this time his distinctive poetic cinema encases a simple and coherent narrative. Existentialism from a rich playboy makes it tonally comparable to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty but this also an absorbing study of the stresses of being a womaniser. Really.

Malick doesn’t judge his lead man for his elegantly wasted lifestyle. The whispered voice-over that – to the amusement of detractors and scintillation of devotees – has become Malick’s failsafe way of evoking higher consciousness has never been more exquisite, repeatedly finding the barest way to communicate the anguish and complexities of the human spirit.


Fandor Daily (David Hudson)

The wispiness and the whispered voiceover (ranging again from snippets of dialogue to prayer-like calls out into the cosmos; my favorite: “Ah, life.”), but most of all, the sheer repetition become, all too soon for this viewer, overbearing. When the credits rolled, all I could think was, “Thank God it’s over.” Rumor has it that the film Malick shot all but simultaneously with Knight of Cups, the one set in Austin’s music scene, will likely premiere at Cannes in May. I sincerely hope that the fresh milieu will rejuvenate the imagination of one our greatest living filmmakers.

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