Knight of Cups | Film review - Transcendent masterpiece or self-indulgent twaddle?

Knight Of Cups Christian Bale.jpg
(Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon)

Terrence Malick’s seventh film is dividing critics.

For some, this impressionistic drama about a philandering Hollywood screenwriter looking for love and searching for a sense of self amid the fleshpots of Los Angeles and Las Vegas is a masterpiece. For others, it’s simply self-indulgent twaddle.

Personally, I’m torn. I found Malick’s previous movie, 2012’s To the Wonder, almost insufferably tedious, and Knight of Cups displays many of the same cinematic tics and mannerisms: elliptical imagery and dialogue, fragmentary voice-overs and a complete absence of plot.

And, while Christian Bale’s questing protagonist, identified with the tarot card figure of the title, drifts from one party to the next, one woman to another (his conquests include Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Imogen Poot and Teresa Palmer), there is the same yearning for transcendence, the same intimations of profundity.

I’m not convinced the film achieves its ambitions, but as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s constantly gliding camera delivers a succession of stunning, sensual and sometimes ecstatic images, rhythmically edited by Malick and accompanied by the rhapsodic music of Vaughan Williams, Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki, I did find it mesmerising.

I’ll need another view or two, though, to decide whether it’s ultimately a masterpiece or miscarriage.

Certificate 15. Runtime 118 mins. Director Terrence Malick

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.