Knight of Cups Review

Posted: February 19, 2015 in 2015 Berlinale, Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

knightofcupsKnight of Cups is a puzzling, not unwatchable, but deeply unsatisfying film. Ultimately, the movie is worth neither the time nor the attention demanded by its 118-minute runtime and its vague narrative structure. Director Terrence Malick’s previous work, The Tree of Life, divided audiences and critics. Viewers of Knight of Cups will likely have an easier time reaching a consensus that this, the seventh feature film from Malick, is a failure. There will be some voices of dissent who continue to claim that the reclusive filmmaker is a unique visionary who uses a distinctive cinematographic approach and fluid, repetitive, dreamlike imagery to weave a tale from memories of the collective subconscious. A few may even believe that, while others will simply be driven by the fear of “not getting it,” much like those who pretend to have read a certain book when the conversation at a cocktail party turns in that direction.

It is all pretty people in pretty houses, and long stretches of the movie come across as an adaptation of Architectural Digest with wardrobe provided by Vogue. It’s the annual Vanity Fair Hollywood edition photo shoot brought to the Big Screen, but do not look for any insight into Tinsel Town, let alone a glimpse at the sordid underbelly of the Dream Factory. Knight of Cups is literally too vacuous for that, empty of people, dialogue, and ideas.

Christian Bale plays a screenwriter named Rick, according to the film’s production notes, and one can only wonder if the movie provides enough clues to discern that fact if not previously aware. We see more of Bale’s back than his front as the camera provides his point of view on a sonambulatory stumble through Southern California. His actress co-stars come and go, each averaging no more than 10 minutes of screen time. He walks after them, captures them, holds their hands, frolics fully clothed in the ocean with them, and then suffers their absence. Rinse, repeat. Again and again and again. Each female is no more than an archetype: older woman, younger woman, married woman, stripper, model, mother.

Natalie Portman. Cate Blanchett. Teresa Palmer. Imogen Poots. Isabel Lucas. Freida Pinto. All essentially interchangeable parts – not one flesh and character among them.

Ben Kingsley appears as God, or, at least, the Voice of God, but his irrelevant narration is interrupted by Rick’s interior monologue or the other characters’ sparse lines before there is a chance to make sense of the proceedings. Brian Dennehy reprises the hard ass father role played by Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, but here Dad is off in a corner rubbing his hands and muttering to himself. Wes Bentley pops in periodically as the brother.

The same family unit leads to a reprise of certain themes from Malick’s last film, but to less effect here. And, yes, some shots and the camera work, in general, is strong, but hardly unique. We are left with a loop of moments without context, texture, or depth.

The title, Knight of Cups, refers to a tarot card, and the film is divided into chapters that bear titles of other cards, albeit from the major arcana (e.g., The Hanging Man, The Moon, Judgment) – except there is also a section called Freedom that has no counterpart in a tarot deck. Further, the different parts of the film bear no apparent relation to the corresponding card, either through a literal interpretation of the name or the most common meaning of the card in the course of a reading.

Still, the grafting on of this artifice, even it does not work, may perhaps be a hopeful sign that as Malick continues writing and directing from his own internal vision, he will see the need for structure. As is, his latest work is not even interesting enough to be called indulgent.


  1. Thanks for the warning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s