Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Tree of Life

Factoid of the day: Terence Malick wrote an early draft of Dirty Harry. Who’d have thunk that? I can’t even picture him and Clint in the same room (although the scenario has endless comic potential.) There’s no one quite like Terence Malick and apparently no one knows anything about the man. Rumour has it he was raised by ghosts in the offices of Cahiers du Cinema. Some say he was born in a manger.

The Tree of Life sees Mr and Mrs O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) raising their three sons in a suburban Texas home. There are flash forwards to older versions of the couple and Jack (Sean Penn) in later life, all dealing with an untimely death. In a nutshell: along the way we witness life, the universe and everything.

Yes, The Tree of Life comes from waaaay left-field. Yes, it’s genuine arthouse cinema. And yes, it’s quite long. But wait… come back. It’s amazing. It’s a heart-achingly beautiful piece of work. Even if you don’t get it it’s still great. In the same way I still don’t know what that damn obelisk was doing in 2001: A Space Odyssey I can happily love this film and be confused at the same time. You’ve got to keep an open mind here. Conversely, I expected to loathe it. Philistine that I am. But it knocked me sideways. In a good way. Every single moment is loaded with weight and meaning. The whole thing is also like some kind of experiment in audience reaction. (We witnessed quite a few walkouts.) Just expect the unexpected.

It’s an impressive roll call of talent. Pitt delivers an understated, pressure cooker performance as the not-wholly-likeable father. Chastain, on the other hand, can only be described as ethereal in her performance as a loving mother. The kids are all ridiculously good. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shoots like it’s the film he wishes to be remembered for (and it just might be). Living legend Douglas Trumbull wows us with some impressive effects, as does Prime Focus with the “controversial” dinosaur scenes. (Don’t listen to what you hear – said scenes are fantastic and puts the film into a whole new league.) However, the star of the show is Malick, who – more than ever – has got his serious groove on.

You must see it on a big screen. Having missed both The Thin Red Line and The New World at the cinema, as a result I found both something of a disappointment. (Please don’t hold it against me. I told you I was a Philistine.) But don’t make the same mistake and wait till its DVD release.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Filmchild your praise of this Prime Focus organisation leaves me deeply suspicious but I can't quite put my finger on why. Perhaps someone else can tell me why I feel so uneasy about the praise being lavished on clips stolen from Walking with Dinosaurs.

    Malick's films are THE reason to watch films in a cinema. Stick your 3D and 4D aromascope up your derrière. This man knows how to use film.
    The New World isn't fantastic but it looks amazing especially the first half.
    Every shot in the Thin Red Line is a work of art.