What if Terrence Malick directed an episode of Entourage? In Knight of Cups, the director turns his roaming camera and ruminating voiceovers toward Los Angeles and the movie business, where the excesses of money and sex and success and ego run rampant. It's a hell of a thing, watching a filmmaker known for dreamy shots of nature tackle the bustle of modern lust and glitz. Knight of Cups might be both the most intoxicating film he's ever made -- a deluge of gorgeous, kinetic images -- and, in some ways, the most perplexing.
There is a whisper of a plot: Christian Bale plays Rick, a successful screenwriter who drifts through a world of freewheeling parties, beautiful women and family strife. The film is divided into loose chapters, each centering not around incidents so much as figures: an impulsive but melancholy actress (Imogen Poots); a model (Freida Pinto) who refuses Rick's advances; his father (Brian Dennehy), gruff and deeply religious; a brother (Wes Bentley), a former addict filled with rage; his estranged wife (Cate Blanchett), a physician who's reflective about their failed marriage; a married woman (Natalie Portman) with whom he briefly seems to find true love.
These feel like symbols, or apparitions. More than ever, Malick shrugs off the demands of narrative. Someone might start to speak, then get drowned out by a bit of voiceover, or a shot of someone else leaning in a telling way, or a particular pattern of buildings, or a pan up to the sky. That's nothing new for Malick; he's been headed in this direction. His camera never lets up, whipping, tilting, panning, shaking, crawling, hurtling; this might be the most unhinged his frame has ever been.