Knight of Cups
Other // R // $29.99 // June 21, 2016
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted July 3, 2016
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Knight Of Cups:
Terrence Malick. That name again. You know that name. He was (and is) a genius, right? Long ago there was Badlands ... Martin Sheen ... Sissy Spacek. Days Of Heaven and then a 20 year hiatus. A movie. Another 7 years off. And every so often since, becoming more and more inclined to meditate for us onscreen. In Knight Of Cups Malick makes interesting, gorgeous things happen, but does it make for a satisfying movie? What. Are you looking for?

Rick (Christian Bale) rides the waves of his life as a Hollywood writer using only the flex of his knees. As the waves tumble grandly in, his board rises and falls, knees flex. His head maintains a constant level. Turning disenchantment into art. He's on a journey, seeking his insides, told through elegant vignettes of his interactions with six women. The sections are named for cards in the Tarot.

You reach a certain age. Or you make a big mistake. Or you simply awaken to the fact that you've been flying blind all along. Things happen in Knight Of Cups, family fights, robberies, yet Cups feels defiantly plot-less. Or maybe we're just lucky enough to be present as Malick wanders through the forest of his past, figuring things out. (Could be just me, though, having spent two of the last four years running as fast away from my life as possible, and the other two wondering why, and how to get back.) Which I suppose is the beauty of a movie like Knight Of Cups, on which Malick lets you imprint what you will.

Yet you, too, might be vexed, as audiences were by such indifference toward convention. Or maybe you're moved. Or both, as you wind your way through Malick's gorgeous, hypnotic, meandering reverie. Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick's Director of Photography gets it, obviously; his fluid steadicam never stops moving. Rotating its eye calmly, smoothly. Always pushing the narrative forward even when nothing happens. Things happen in Knight Of Cups, family fights, robberies, but the pace never once falters. There may be an arc, but there's hardly a crescendo. You're floating down the lazy river on Malick's raft - oh here's Natalie Portman crying bitter tears, there's a neon strip club, let's walk down this hallway together, let's drive down this freeway - all at a seamless, 90-beats-per-minute remove.

Cheekily, credits advise you to play the movie loud. Which might be a practical thing. Voiceovers whisper, as interior as can be, dialog is quiet, nearly incidental. Music means as much as anything else in Knight Of Cups, mixed right in there at the same level as anything else. Languid, soft. John Cage would approve, as while watching (at normal volume) you might hear a neighbor's music, or someone walking upstairs, and think it's part of the movie. Maybe it is. Do play it loud, because Hanan Townshend's music is fantastic. And when you do hear it, is the dialog clunky - "so much love inside us that never gets out" - or is it merely, to the point?

As with The Tree Of Life, in Knight Of Cups Malick ultimately captures, expertly, painfully, beautifully, the ache of a remembered childhood, when we'd believe anything, and the sun setting through the trees signaled something different on the way. Knight Of Cups seems as any twilight reverie, when everything outside the window is a still blue-gray, and there's a haunting aesthetic remove from emotional reality.

Lastly you see the wall approaching. Knight Of Cups isn't really a movie. It's something in which to burrow, and again when you can't sleep. Maybe you can get things sorted. Recommended.


Blu-ray seems to have been invented for the films of Terrence Malick (as well as those superhero movies, of course.) Knight Of Cups glides around in a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, and looks absolutely fantastic. Details are deep and fine without being overly crisp, and manage to remain stable even as Luzbeki's camera roams all over the place. Colors appear natural, dealing well with shots using both natural light, (there's a boatload of beautiful outdoor photography) and within artificially lit nightclubs. The AVC encoded image betrays no real defects.

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English and DTS Digital Surround 5.1 in Spanish are your audio options. Sound design is fairly unique and complex, with voiceovers, other dialog, incidental noises and music all blending in subtle but uniform matter. More expressive aspects of the mix work really well, surrounding you with party sounds, rustling leaves, and children's laughter. Hanan Townshend's excellent score sounds particularly full and rich, as do other compositions in the soundtrack, highlighting excellent dynamic range.

English SDH Subtitles and Spanish Subtitles comprise your utilitarian extras. A 16-minute Featurette: The Making Of Knight Of Cups, is the only other extra (excepting Trailers for other movies, I suppose). Cast and crew play it close to the vest in terms of explaining the movie, they all have their own ideas. There's fun to be had as they describe the improvisatory nature of a Terrance Malick set.

Final Thoughts:
Knight Of Cups isn't for everyone. Malick's fine-art painting of a movie finds Christian Bale wandering L.A. and Las Vegas, searching for meaning in his life through escapades with six women. Told without plot, through whispered voice-overs, muttered, incidental dialog, and gorgeous, constantly wandering cinematography, the movie never falters in its languid pace. For Malick fans and serious art-house patrons looking for something to really dig into, Knight Of Cups is recommended. Maybe you'll even figure it out.

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