Saturday, June 2, 2012

Short Take: The Tree of Life

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Terrence Malick’s fifth feature, The Tree of Life, is a great film, and perhaps his best. Its centerpiece is a richly detailed look at life in Texas during the 1950s, as seen through the eyes of a middle-school-aged boy (Hunter McCracken). We see his experiences with his brothers and friends, as well as his ambivalent view of his mother (Jessica Chastain). The film is at its most eloquent when it explores his extremely complicated feelings towards his authoritarian father (Brad Pitt). Malick stages, shoots, and edits the picture in an impressionistic style that’s nothing less than dazzling. It dances from shot to shot and scene to scene with the utmost elegance. It’s one of the few films that truly deserves to be called lyrical. Malick’s filmmaking artistry is at such a high level that one easily forgives the pretentious aspects of his script, most specifically the life through the eons nature allegory during the film’s first third. When the picture settles into the 1950s sections, one feels one could watch it forever. Sean Penn appears in the film's framing scenes as the protagonist in middle age. The masterful cinematography is by Emmanuel Lubezki.

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