I just watched The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, with Terrence Malick directing.
The first warning should have been the opening ethereal voiceovers whispering about the mystery of Life; and that you literally cannot count to five without being blitzed with a new camera angle. It's all good, though, because just around the corner we get Brad Pitt and Sean Penn vying for alpha actor, right?
Wrong. What happens next is a 20 minute montage that, in an attempt to explain the beauty of living evolution, is destroying my desire to breathe oxygen.
I suffer through another hour and a half of space shots and Jurassic Park intertwined with preaching from the heavens. In 139 minutes not one word of dialogue passes between Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
Penn comes off the worst. The only direction he appears to have gotten from Malick was, "Act confused and out of place."
Why the hell is The Tree of Life up for three Oscars? What grip does Malick have on the Academy? I decide to dig into this. My mission: watch Malick's four other movies and piece together an explanation.
Badlands (1973 - 94 minutes)
It's the first minute of Badlands and I'm already sucked in. Young Martin Sheen is a little androgynous stud. He is James Dean's twin - every bit as captivating. And Sissy Spacek; my god was she really that funky looking? Let's just say it, Spacek was the first actress to cash in on albino-alien-cute.
Malick's gift is capturing offbeat moments and interesting dialogue. I get what all of the fuss was about. He wrote, directed and produced Badlands by his 30th birthday. And Hollywood had its next shooting comet.
I am, however, flagging one 30 second nature scene as Malick's first pull on the crack pipe of self-indulgence.
Days of Heaven (1978 - 94 minutes)
Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams and Richard Gere are the leads. Malick's script is a Midwest precursor to Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal; with more hopelessness and no boob job.
No one in this cast comes close to Sheen and Spacek in Badlands. Without standout acting, we get Badlands-Lite with a six minute montage of fire and locusts.
Days of Heaven receives Academy nominations for Cinematography, Costume Design and Original Score. It wins for Cinematography and Malick takes Best Director at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. This endorsement is baffling and troublesome. Malick has upgraded his glass pipe of pretentiousness into a three-foot party bong.
The Thin Red Line (1998 - 170 minutes)
The cast is outrageous: Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Sean Penn, John Cusack, John Travolta, John C. Reilly, Jared Leto, Adrian Brody and George Clooney.
In spite of the black holes in the plot, I like The Thin Red Line. It´s a guy film with two kickass war scenes.
But to review, Malick takes one of the best groups of actors ever assembled, abandons the screenplay and films miles of footage. The five hour long first cut is unwatchable. The final version is a narrative mess with gaping continuity problems and more weird voiceovers.
Hollywood continues its destructive fixation by gifting seven Oscar nominations including an unconscionable nod for Best Film Editing. And Malick just dumped a kilo of pure Peruvian self-righteousness onto his coffee table.
The New World (2005 - 135 minutes)
Starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.
The same opening music, mishmash of nature shots and stupid elitist voiceovers. What comes to mind is, "I hate this f**king shit."
Because, it is true. Malick makes you want to punch your nose bone into your brain. He is getting worse!
The official time is 41:22 when I say, "F**k it, I'm done." I haven't seen Christian Bale and don't care.
Through two of his four earlier movies, Malick has shown exactly one talent. He draws out subtle emotions and interplay between top actors. In The Tree of Life he pisses on that talent with endless MTV slice and dice cutaways. Once again the industry turns a blind eye and hands Malick three Oscar nominations and countless film critics' awards.
Why is everyone n*thugging on this guy?
Here's my hypothesis: Terrence Malick is living off of the performances he pulled from Sheen and Spacek in Badlands. Some of the best actors on earth desperately want to have a Badlands awards season. They are willing to risk being in a Malick crime scene to get it. He is also receiving shelter from Hollywood snoberatti who don't have the guts to stand up and call bullshit on his chloroform montages.
Terrence Malick needs an intervention. Hollywood, can you please challenge his pretentiousness. Convince him to remove the voiceovers and stock footage from the Discovery Channel. Assure him that his genius comes from working with an amazing cast and a linear script. He is an addict that needs tough love, not more nominations.