What a self-indulgent, beautifully photographed and very well acted mess “The Tree of Life” is! I’d say it wasn’t worth the price of admission. I left feeling queasy, like I had just seen a 3D movie, but it wasn’t in 3D! And at the public screening I attended tonight two women were talking very loudly about getting their money back.
Brad Pitt is probably the best he’s ever been in this as the grown Sean Penn’s memory of a stern, but ultimately loving father…But is it enough to win him his long sought-after Oscar?
You have to weigh, or rather wade through, a good half hour or more of primordial ooze and yes, even what looks like Velosoraptors, who seem to have wandered in from “Jurassic Park”! No. I’m not kidding!DINOSAURS! Before you get to the sometimes gripping family drama, that seems more like a memory piece, than a crafted film. If you even call “Tree of Life” that.
I could follow it, but judging by the comments I was hearing, when it was over, from fellow audience members, most couldn’t. Or they got it wrong. “Which son died?” I heard that over and over again.
I THINK it’s the story of an adult male in an urban city (could be Texas. We don’t ever really know) who is played with great stress by Sean Penn, doing a much as he can with virtually no dialogue whatsoever.
Ditto the glorious screen debut of the stupendous, beautiful redheaded young actress Jessica Chastain, who is going to be coming at us in so many movies this year, it’s unbelievable. She’s going to have a very, very BIG screen career. And “The Tree of Life” for all it’s flaws, launches her into the cinematic stratosphere here. At one point, Malick even has her flying through the air, as the embodiment of motherly beauty. And that moment was charming.
But again ,like Penn, she has virtually no dialogue whatsoever, and that she registers at all playing the essence of young feminine beauty and motherly love, in what is basically a silent film debut is very, very impressive.
I saw much of Jessica’s work at Julliard when she was an undergrad there, and I must say I predicted all this would happen to her. She’s dazzling. Amazing. A great young, scintillatingly beautiful actress, with a tremendous range. She can play anything. Classic or modern and she here is made to make one reminiscent of Cate Blanchett, who also had a nearly wordless role opposite Brad Pitt as his wounded-by-a-sniper wife in “Babel.”
Which reminds me of how really, really good Pitt was in that film as a distraught husband. He’s really, really fine here, too, as again, the nearly wordless father. Though he does have MOST of the dialogue of the film, what little there is of it.
I would say a nomination probably, and with a smart Oscar distributor like Fox Searchlight is known to be, behind this monumentally difficult of a sell, he just may score another Best Actor nod. And yes, it’s been selling out. The house, despite the walk-outs was packed.
But it’s an uphill battle with this part of the tough, disciplinarian Dad to get Pitt to the podium for the win. But if anybody can do it, Fox Searchlight can.
The film, if you keep paying attention, and cutting it monumental slack, which I’m actually doing here, is about letting go of your own past. In this case, I THINK it was the guilt the grown Penn feels towards his difficult relationship with his dad, Brad Pitt, and also the death of his younger brother.
Or I THINK it was the younger brother who dies. The sullen main child was meant to be the kid version of Penn. But many audience members weren’t sure. The recalcitrant child is played very well . I think he may actually have the most lines in the film, after Pitt. We see most of this film from his sullen, angry eyes. But many in the audience were confused. And WHAT will the Academy make of this confounding film, with no clear plot line?
All this happens to this typical Waco, Texas WASP church-going middle class family. And the recalcitrant child spends the rest of his life coming to terms with it as he turns into Sean Penn. Right? Or maybe I’m not right. It’s genuinely confounding.
Or something like that.
The cinematography, especially of all of the planets and the protozoa and the lava and whatever else it was we were witnessing at the LONNNNNG, slow, agonizing start of this film, is indeed breathtaking. And the images, hold you, even though it’s very difficult to puzzle out just what the truly frustrating iconic director Terence Malick is up to. And the answer is, well, EVERYTHING. He’s trying to get everything that ever happened in the entire history of the universe into this one film. No wonder it’s running time is over two and a half hours!
It’s Malick, being Malick, so I knew there would be a lot of photographs of leaves and esp. leaves of grass and there are. But it’s a shame that Fox Searchlight or whomever didn’t reign in Malick’s incredibly self-indulgent impulses. It’s very long, arduous experience. It’s work. Not fun. And certainly not entertainment, but Malick probably never intended it to be anything else but portentous. I was going to say PREtentious. But it is that, too. IN SPADES.
But there is a moment in the end where things are getting wrapped up that the film does redeem itself. But by then, as good as he is Brad Pitt may have lost his Oscar.
It’s a restrained, understated, subtle performance and I liked it. But Oscar doesn’t do subtle…usually…
It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. But here, most people were heading for the door.