Comments on watching and making films.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tree of Life

You're average movie-goer probably doesn't have a clue who Terrence Malick is, but, to cineaste's, he is the closest thing to god many of them have (and as elusive). He barreled onto the scene in 1973 with his masterpiece debut, Badlands, followed only five years later by another masterpiece of 70's American cinema, Days of Heaven. It would be 20 years before we saw another film, 1998's The Thin Red Line, which would be followed by The New World, and now Tree of Life. While everyone can agree that it's fantastic to no longer have to wait twenty years to get a new film by Malick, Tree of Life has been gestating as a project since the Badlands/Days of Heaven era, a few more years and some quality input may have kept this one in line with Malicks previous works.

Tree of Life gives us a first hand view of a period of time in the lives of one Texas family. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play the father and mother. They have three young boys, the oldest, and the one that the film focuses on, is Jack, played by Hunter McCracken. We see Pitt be the traditional 1950's era father, trying to teach his boys how to be tough, while Chastain plays the traditional mother, gentle, loving and caring. Interspersed throughout their story is the very evolution of the universe and Earth itself, from the beginning of time back to the 1950's, and occasionally to the present, where we meet grown Jack, played by Sean Penn.

Tree of Life is a lot of what you would expect from a Malick film. The cinematography is epic and gorgeous, and the film is meditatively paced, and allows itself to unfold in front of you. The problem with Tree, though, is it is bloated. There are multiple scenes that don't really go anywhere, and edits within the scenes that feel contradictory, or are unnecessary. It's hard, though, because these things (and the sheer length of it), butts up against how beautiful and transcendent the film can be. While it doesn't seem to have a solid plot, Tree is more like a scrapbook of this family's life than anything else, and those little moments being strung together can really bring out an empathy in the audience, if they allow it too. Both Pitt and Chastain deliver fantastic performances, and the young boys playing their sons are pretty much perfect.

I feel incredibly mixed about this film. I like it and I don't. I think if you are already a Malick fan, you definitely should see it and make up your own mind. If you don't really know who the guy is, but you've heard good things, go rent Badlands or Days of Heaven instead.

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