Knight of Cups review: Christian Bale stars as a traumatised Hollywood screenwriter in this faintly surreal movie

 
James Luxford
Christian Bale as Rick in Knight of Cups

Sporadic film maker Terence Malick is enjoying the most prolific period of his career, having made as many films in the last five years as he had in the previous thirty. His seventh film stars Christian Bale as Rick, a Hollywood screenwriter left hollow by success and tortured by family trauma, who embarks on a series of encounters with various women, including his ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), a married woman (Natalie Portman) and a model (Frieda Pinto).


“You live in a little fantasy world, don’t you?” purrs Teresa Palmer as a stripper who steals Rick’s heart – a statement that could very well apply to the filmmaker himself. Shot and told in an unusual fashion (eight tarot-inspired chapters, with Bale given no script), anyone who has seen Malick’s recent work will know what to expect. Beautifully shot sequences are wrapped up in gorgeous music, with philosophical voice-overs moving the story along at a glacial pace.

So, not the most user-friendly experience, but then after forty years it should be clear that this is a director who follows his own path. Once you get used to the film’s deliberate, often surreal style, the beauty and artistry of the story comes to the surface. We feel every ounce of Bale’s quiet desperation, while an incredible cast orbits around him – highlights include Antonio Banderas’ womaniser, and Portman’s short but intense segment, ominously titled “Death”.

To many viewers, Malick’s methods may be too obtuse to enjoy, or even follow; but to cinephiles this is another symphony from one of the film world’s great mavericks. There are few other names making this kind of cinema, perhaps none on this sort of scale. Whether or not Knight of Cups’ style agrees with you, it’s a vision to be admired.

(15) Dir. Terence Malick | ★★★☆☆