Rick (Christian Bale) is a writer in Hollywood, whose glamorous life of parties and excess holds no thrall for him any more, as he struggles with where his life is going and what his true purpose is, he crosses paths with six women, and has very different relationships with each of them.
Ah Terrence Malick, ever since the wonderful, experiential and divisive Tree Of Life, audiences have been waiting for the director to bring something to us that could get us thinking in the way his 2011 film did. To the Wonder failed to be even half as engaging as Tree of Life, and although Knight of Cups is not as alienating as his previous film, there is a feel of “first world problems” about the entire thing.
The cast of Knight of Cups is stellar, with performances from Christian Bale, Imogen Poots, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Teresa Palmer, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley and Antonio Banderas. As well as these, many famous faces turn up in cameo, including Jason Clarke, Joe Lo Truglio, Joe Manangiello and Kelly Cutrone in a rather hilarious turn. The trouble is that while all of the characters that orbit Christian Bale as Rick seem to have a clear idea of who they are and their relationship with him, Rick just drifts through every scene; more of an observer than a character, and since he is the one we spend the most time with, this becomes a problem.
Terrence Malick’s screenplay is one that deals with many issues, all of which are framed through the classic Rider-Waite Tarot card deck – from which the film takes its title – and as well as this, Malick uses Christian allegory tales both as voiceover and inspiration for the film, and the whole thing comes off as messy and indulgent.
Beautifully shot, Knight of Cups does have a strong message about people using alcohol and other people to hide their pain, as well as the depression that can come with a mid life crisis, but this is so buried underneath rambling monologues, glossy visuals and indulgent conversations that it is hard to root for a wealthy, successful and handsome lead character who seems to be suffering from a malaise no worse than affulenza and feeling disconnected from the world around him. This is a gorgeous looking advert for first world problems, although a stronger edit could have led to the film exploring real issues, the 118 minute running time swallows any borderline profundity whole.
In all, Knight of Cups looks incredible on the big screen but although Malick tries to discuss real issues that people struggle with, having a lead character that is more of an observer than participant in the film, and a story that feels like we are drifting through the memories of someone having them erased a lá Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind leaves Knight of Cups feeling bloated and indulgent, and the audience wondering just why they should really care.