Friday, 29 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Tree Of Life

Directed by: Terence Malick

Produced by: Dede Gardner
Sarah Green
Grant Hill
Brad Pitt
Bill Pohland

Screenplay by: Terence Malick

Starring: Brad Pitt
Sean Penn
Jessica Chastain

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing by: Hank Corwin
Jay Rabinowitz
Daniel Renzende
Billy Weber
Mark Yoshikawa

Studio(s): Plan B Entertainment
River Road Entertainment

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States/United Kingdom)
EuropaCorp (France)

Release date(s): May 16, 2011 (Cannes)
May 27, 2011 (United States)
July 8, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 138 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $32 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $37, 428, 179

Okay, I may or may not be firing in a review for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 today, because I have come to the conclusion that despite annoying children in the screening I can still make a valid and accurate analysis of the film. I would like to get this done today as it is my last day of reviewing for at least a good week as I am taking our scout troop away for a week on a trip, so that should be fun. Of course, whenever I get back I will be reviewing Cars 2 and I think Captain American is out in the next few days so that will probably be on the list. Speaking of American, I found a copy of Anton Corbijn's The American starring George Clooney, one of my favourite film's of 2010 for £5 the other day so I can't wait to kick back and watch this film.

Today's film is a rather interesting case. One of the year's most highly anticipated films, The Tree Of Life registers as an event as it marks the release of a new film by Terence Malick, one of America's most influential directors over the past forty years, despite having only released five films. Met with a chorus of both boos and applause at Cannes, as well as taking home the Palme d'Or, Malick's stylistic approach has truly polarised audiences. I'm going to avoid the usual plot synopsis, as it is one of those film's that truly needs to be seen, whether you like or not, with as little plot detail as is possible. Instead, I will tell a couple of little stories about the screening. I was worried going in as I didn't have much money on me and whether or not I'd be able to afford both a ticket and a taxi home. I knew at the QFT it was going to be at least a fiver, but the £6 admission fee certainly through me off balance. Even more off-putting was a group of silly old women, who were at the previous showing, blabbing their conclusions about a certain character in the film, while I was out the front having a cigarette. As someone who believes in the integrity of not spoiling a film, this was rather annoying, and even more annoying was their bemused looks when I said aloud "spoilers, spoilers, spoilers" as though not aware or purely ignorant of the fact that they are blurting important details aloud. Nevertheless, these miscrepancies did not stop me from making the 9.15 deadline.

The film opens with a quote from the Book Of Job, and from here we are truly taken on an extraordinary cinematic journey. Emmanuel Lubezki cinematography is breathtaking to behold. The various images the fill the screen show some great imagination in the location shooting, but the scenes involving the O'Brien family in 1950's Texas really have a dreamlike, hyper-realised quality that is wholly appropriate to the narrative and thematic treatment of the film. The Tree Of Life also has the distinction of being the film with perhaps the largest collection of credited editors (five in all) for a feature film I have seen for a long time. Considering the epic scope and nature of the project, it is my conclusion that they each worked on certain parts catering to their strengths. Overall, they did a really great job. This film is one that really has a phenomenal overall mise-en-scene that encompasses the viewer and throws us right into the deep end. Another important contributor would certainly be Douglas Trumbull, whose role as 'visual effects consultant' I think was vital in contributing to the legitimacy and believability of the project. The biggest pleasant surprise was that Alexandre Desplat, a composer I have had problems with in the past, has created some fantastic pieces for this film that stand head-and-shoulders alongside the classical recordings that have made their way into the film. The central cast in the film too are spot-on, bringing a sympathetic, human feeling to a technically brilliant film. Brad Pitt gives a tremendous performance as Mr. O'Brien, and Jessica Chastain is wonderful as Mrs. O'Brien. The young cast too are also terrific, but I would like to single out specifically Hunter McCracken as the young Jack. The changes in his personality are very subtle and handled with grace and the craft of a fine actor. One cannot talk about this film without mentioned Terence Malick. As the film's writer-director, it is his singular vision and style that guides this project to fruition. The film has been criticised in by elements of the critical community as being a collection of too many images being thrown together, and there was a particular twenty/thirty-minute sequence where I thought "Gee, he better have something connect the dot's so that it makes sense." Thankfully, Malick did, and the whole thing, despite being all over the place, does make sense, so you don't have that horrible feeling of a filmmaker declaring "this is art" because you appreciate as art without being told. Malick's script, despite going places far and away, is actually very well-grounded. He is very much in touch with human emotion, and injects this film with the humanism and spirit that is lacking in a lot of films of this type. Importantly, people have complained about the non-linear narrative/non-narrative style of the film's structure. I feel that it works brilliantly, the fragmentary nature being consistent and appropriate. Also, as a singular directorial achievement, it is stunning, and matches the work Christopher Nolan and James Cameron on Inception and Avatar respectively. Furthermore, the comparisons have been made between this and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like 2001 a lot, but this does everything 2001 does and contains a warmth and heart that is lacking in that film. It is unquestionably a masterpiece.

The Tree Of Life truly is a majestic film, but there are problems which are identifiable with the film and not just mere niggles that happen to be a matter of personal taste. Sean Penn plays the character of Jack when he is older. Unfortunately, despite being a pivotal character is this story, Penn gets all off about ten-minutes of screen time at the very most in which to express his character. I think this is certainly a fault when you bring an actor of his caliber into your film and do not utilise him appropriately. Saying that, I've heard that Penn's role was significantly decreased in post-production. Frankly, I could have watched this film for another twenty minutes I was enjoying it that much, so it is a shame that we are missing more footage with Penn. You just get the impression that they use Penn in the manner that Sergei Eisenstein would use typage in his film's, casting unknown's via their faces to express an emotion in little screen time. This certainly is the main problem with the film, and I feel personally that it is poorly balanced by comparison to the rest of the film, and leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise fine film.

I really do have a problem with lack of balance in the Sean Penn aspect of The Tree Of Life. However, despite this hole, The Tree Of Life is a wonderful film. It is overall a fine technical achievement in the cinematography, visual effects and editing departments. The score/soundtrack is very powerful and contributes significantly to the success of the film. Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken gives great performance. The thematic content of the picture is dense, entering the realm of the meta-physical and will no doubt conjure debate from humanist and spiritualist philosophical circles for years to come. Finally, the singularity of Terrence Malick as the architect of this film is the key to unlocking Pandora's Box, and watching The Tree Of Life we bear witness to a true masterpiece of film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bowled over

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