My opinion on Terrence Malick’s style of direction doesn’t seem likely to change. With The Thin Red Line managing to do little in its lengthy running time, Malick’s direction falls under the same problems with arguably his biggest project since then, The Tree of Life. Feeling more like a personal project than something anywhere near marketable, The Tree of Life tries to do just about everything it can with little resonance to be found.
Although The Tree of Life features heavy A-listers like Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, their presence in the movie feels somewhat lacking. Jack (Penn) forages his memory, sticking himself in the past as he struggles to deal with the adaptation to modern life. Pitt plays his father, and although the two find themselves in different eras of history, they feel connected in the most genuine of ways. Their performances are solid enough given the loose focus of the movie; Pitt especially manages to amaze as ever.
But that’s all that can be said for the movie. Malick’s direction is visually appealing but shallow and meaningless. His vision is bogged down in trying to be a spectacle in of itself. Panning shots of glass rooftops as Sean Penn considers his childhood and upbringing. All well and good, so long as there’s a plot to string it all together. There’s a fight for power between the direction and the story, neither of the two really wanting to shift from a position of prominence. In turn, we receive a muddled story and some trivial direction.
There’s a smug aura of pretentious jargon lingering throughout the movie. Malick’s style positions him above everyone as creator. Judge, jury and executioner. Any role he can think of, he styles himself personally to that, and it comes off as egotistical. His verbose nonsense proved cathartic in that it feels good to be reviewing a pet project gone wrong. The faint whispers asking open questions as we watch the universe form comes off as showboating rather than anything relevant to the movie. Maybe my lacking spiritual side is a reason I disliked The Tree of Life so strongly, but the movie didn’t do anything to convince me of its way of thinking.