Thursday, July 14, 2011

the tree of life

think about it...

on the anniversary of his brother's death, jack o'brien (sean penn) begins to think about his childhood; specifically the time he spent with his overbearing father (brad pitt), down-trodden mother (jessica chastain) and his two brothers in a suburban neighbourhood in texas.

'the tree of life' is the fifth feature film that terrence malick has directed in the last forty years. prolific, he is not. still, it cannot be denied that malick does, indeed, have an artistic vision and, thanks to the money and sway of brad pitt, he has brought his vision to the big screen. eventually.

the film is quite beautiful to watch. emmanuel lubezki's cinematography, predominantly hand-held, and the quality of light, which makes its way into each scene through the almost ever-present shroud of trees, combine to achieve a really beautiful aesthetic. the production design inject into this sequences that douglas trumbull contributed, showing the origins of life and you certainly have something which is quite beautiful to watch, except for the extremely poor cgi dinosaur scene...

the performances are, on the whole, pretty strong. penn is fine for the five minutes he appears on screen and pitt puts in the kind of assured performance that he always seems to pull out of the bag when he's required to. still, the real stars of the film are jessica chastain, who is quite wonderful to watch, and hunter mccraken, who plays the young jack and is the film's central character. the boy done good.

now, much has been made of malick's choices when it comes to narrative structure and editing: projecting the adult jack's memories as a meandering stream of consciousness, interspersed with the origin of life departures and you certainly have something which is quite interesting in a cinematic sense. the stylisation is all well and good, although the final result makes the film feel as it it were a two hour and twenty minute advert for a bank or investment house. some might say it is masturbation over meditation, and i'd probably say that it certainly ends up being closer to the former, rather than the latter, as i'm sure malick intended. and, ultimately, i found the whole affair vacuous.

for me, the biggest problem with the film is trite, hackneyed americana conceit of the over-bearing father ("don't call me dad"), the pushover mother and the kid growing up confused, oedipal and unable to express emotion. regardless of the analogous nature of the film, the result is, for me, greatly flawed. so much so that it drew chuckles from me at numerous points of the film, which i found unintentionally amusing in their cack-handedness. "think about it"; being one such moment.

i also found the detached sound bites of prayer quite irksome and i wasn't a huge fan of alexandre desplat's score. i usually do quite like his work too.

in summary, i'd say that malick creates the packaging, at times stunning and interesting packaging, but still it is packaging that contains little more than a few very basic, very base ideas, which are given over with only the most surface level of exploration and perfunctory meditation.

not good.

the film is currently on general release.

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