★ ★ 1/2
I’ve never been a devoted fan of Terrence Malick, though I have enjoyed a great number of his movies, notably Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. However, sometimes his esoteric heavy handedness is just too much for me and this film, I believe, suffers the most from that style.
Oddly enough, there’s really no reason for me to even explain the characters in the story or their names, as this film is less a movie than a visual essay. Honestly, I don’t think half the characters names were even mentioned during the film. So, let’s do it this way: Sean Penn is a grown man meandering through life fixated on the death of his brother many years ago and the lessons, trials and tribulations of his childhood and growth. Scenes from this part of the film make up about 15% of the film. The majority of the movie (about 75%) is fixated on his time as a child, growing up in rural Texas with his mother, played by Jessica Chastain, and his father, portrayed by Brad Pitt, and two younger brothers. The film presents us with a semi-first person collage of his memories as a child, mostly disjointed as childhood memories often are. The remaining 10% of the film looks like Discovery Channel B-Roll and apparently represents the forming of Earth as a place where complex beings can live and survive.
To me, the movie has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t capture what a I feel a movie’s top priority is: to entertain. At nearly two and half hours, I was exhausted and ready for the film to be over at the end. I will commend Malick on presenting us with a beautiful ode to the memories of childhood and the process of growing up and dealing with the decisions and effects of that said childhood. I will further highly commend Emmanuel Lubezki for his amazing cinematography in capturing the images of this film, which are captured with a wonderful and precise manipulation of mostly natural light. The choice of wide angles lenses and hypnotic steadicam movements further propelled the visuals into working nicely to put Malick’s vision on screen.
However, in the end, as much as I appreciate a beautiful film, it doesn’t make up for a boring one. And, yes I can take a “boring” film as well when I can fully appreciate it; this film just felt too pretentious for me and I can’t enjoy boring and pretentious. In conclusion, I would say that most viewers will either love this and completely understand and relate to Malick’s vision, or they will completely be turned off and not care for this film at all. I guess that’s testament to Malick’s career, you either like his films or you don’t, there is rarely a “gray” area in his work.