Film Review: Knight of Cups

Knight of Cups poster

Knight of Cups Plot Summary:

A disillusioned Hollywood writer (Christian Bale) wonders how he came to be, as he tries to better himself through love and reflection.

Ah, life.

Go.  Where.  Find it.

Nope.  That’s not me rambling like an idiot.  That’s just some of the dialogue from Terrence Malick’s latest opus, Knight of Cups.  I rarely do this, but I waited a few days to write this review.  When I got up from my chair as the credits rolled on, like a life preserver being thrown to you after falling off the Titanic, I was ready to sprint home and immediately type my rage filled review.  I decided against it.  I wanted to make sure the emotion was gone, and confirm that I still hate this movie a few days later.  It’s confirmed.  This is a detestable insult to cinema.

Cups pic 1

I tried.  I really tried.  I know it’s Terrence Malick, so I went to bed early the night before.  I got a nice coffee and bagel before my mid-morning screening.  I was focused.  Alert.  I really wanted to give this movie an honest chance.  How bad is Knight of Cups?  When the film ended, I wanted to watch a Michael Bay movie to cleanse myself of the pretentious barrage I just endured.  I try not to throw the “p” word around when I review films, but if there was ever a movie to deserve that filthy piece of diction, it’s this one.  I’m actually mad at all of you right now.  Yeah, that’s right!  I appreciate you reading this and hope you get a few laughs, but for me this wasn’t funny.  For me, this was a chore.  I don’t normally ramble on this long before getting into specifics, so let’s get this over with.  All aboard the Malick train.

For those who don’t know Terrence Malick, he helmed 2011’s The Tree of Life, which some feel is brilliant, while others contend it’s a bunch of random gobbledygook.  I fall into the later.  Knight of Cups is essentially the same style, but even worse.  Bale plays Rick.  Rick is a Hollywood writer, but his life is empty.  He walks around deserted landscapes pouting.  Sometimes he’s at crowded parties.  Other times he’s surrounded by corporate goons who tell him he can make a lot of money.  He’s got issues with his dad (Brian Dennehy), as well as his loser brother (Wes Bentley).  All this could potentially work, right?  It would be nice if these characters had actual conversations, but how dare I suggest such a conventional means of storytelling.  I apologize.

Cups pic 2

If you wanted to tell this as a purely visually story, there’s definitely a good movie in there.  But Malick is a complete mess of a director.  This is nothing but people walking around while nonsensical voiceovers and images pour over the screen.  Sometimes you hear mumbling, or pop in for a random discussion, but you can’t even understand the basic premise of the conversation most of the time.  And I know some of you out there are saying, “You just didn’t get it, Dan.”  Oh, I didn’t get it?  THEN EXPLAIN TO ME THE BLUE PLATES STACKED UP ON THE SQUASH COURT!  Yeah!  That’s what we’re talking about here!  Sometimes it will cut away to an abandoned basketball court.  Oh, now we’re in space with a green layer over the planets.  I’m not making this up.  I swear to Moses, all those images are in the movie.  So don’t give me this “You didn’t get it” crap.  I’ve already ranted about the narrative structure, so let’s get into the characters.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Did I say characters?  There are none.  I understand Rick is supposed to feel empty and meaningless, but you have to inject some level of a trait or personality into your main character.  I might as well be watching a piece of wood.  How was Bale’s performance?  What performance?  There’s nothing here to evaluate.  Most of the time Bale is filmed from behind.  He’s one of the greatest actors working today, but this is like putting Aaron Rodgers on the field with no players.  I’ll give Bale a pass on this one.  Sometimes actors get bored, and feel they need something different.  Let’s pray he got this out of his system.  Natalie Portman was energetic I guess.  My feeling on Natalie Portman is when she’s further away from a standard Hollywood picture, she actually tries harder.  Geez Louise, did George Lucas scar her for life.  My word.  There’s also Wes Bentley and Cate Blanchett.  They do nothing.

cups pic 3

Do I have anything nice to say?  Sure.  The cinematography looks gorgeous, and the score is decent.  Maybe Terrence Malick should be a photographer, because he sure as hell isn’t a good storyteller.  Even if you want to make the subtext argument, it felt inconsistent.  For example, there are definite points where Malick bemoans big corporations, like when we see Chase or Fidelity lit up in a dark corner.  While those shots are going on, there’s usually a guy in a business suit talking in Rick’s ear while he looks miserable.  Oooooooooo, money is evil.  Yet, some of the happier points for Rick are when he’s living it up in beautiful mansions.  You know, mansions you would need to buy with money.  Whatever.  I guess I just didn’t get it, man.

So that’s Knight of Cups.  It’s nothing but a self-indulgent gluttonous piece of garbage.  I promise you, if someone presented this script in a screenplay class, they would be crying at how many bad notes they got.  Bale walks around an empty desert.  Occasionally he makes out with women.  He says a bunch of non sense that high college kids would say.  We close out the section with a random image of a door knob melting, and then rinse and repeat for two hours.  That’s the movie.  This is why I get so mad when people claim Fantastic Four or Jurassic World are the worst movies ever made.  No.  THESE are the truly horrible movies.  These are the movies that should be nominated for Razzies.  And just so you don’t think I’m a raving lunatic, four people walked out of my screening.  At the same time though, there are plenty of critics who bathe themselves in films like this.  If you legitimately like the movie, fine.  To each his own.  There’s no doubt in my mind though that certain critics love this because they want to sound smart, or are so against sequels and franchises, they’ll automatically love this because of how “original” it is.  When I watch Knight of Cups, Captain America 85 doesn’t sound so bad.

I despise this movie.  The End.

Rating: 1.5 out of 10 (I’d Almost Rather Watch a Movie Where Jar Jar Binks is the Only Character)

Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.