Who's In It: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Fiona Shaw, Hunter McCracken
The Basics: The latest Terrence Malick art project begins with a quote from the book of Job ("Where were you when I founded the earth..."), one of the verses where God is scolding Job for complaining so much. What follows involves Sean Penn's silent mid-life crisis. We don't know what that crisis is but he's having one. His internal discontent causes a flashback to his childhood growing up in Waco, Texas, a place where his mostly idyllic existence revolved around his two brothers, his loving, protective mother and his stern, old-school father. Meanwhile, on a parallel visual track, God is founding the earth while organisms--both macro and micro--teem around, yellow blobs of indistinct matter dance in the blackness of space and lava oozes all over everything. Then this one dinosaur steps on another dinosaur's face.
What's The Deal: Depending on your personal associations with concepts like "God," "nature," "grace," "love" and "Waco," this movie will either make kinda-sorta sense or no sense at all. A background in Baptist Sunday Schooling would help, but isn't necessary. What won't help is trying to apply linear plot thought to a movie that wants to float around you like a ghost. It even contains dozens of shots of vintage white curtains billowing in the soft Texas breeze to get that feeling across. It's Malick's big statement about fathers and sons, God and creation, chaos and order, mercy and judgment and it's sometimes muddled and confused, sometimes generic when it could have been specific, and almost always stretching way too far out into the groovy cosmic whatever. But if I have to choose between a movie that contains no ideas at all and one that tries to do too much, I'll pick the latter.
Best Dumb Part: When Sean Penn's vaguely unhappy architect character walks through a literal door on a beach, then wanders aimlessly around the incoming tide with a bunch of other people, including his childhood self and parents and people who don't even register as recognizable characters from the rest of the movie. It's meant to be heavy and poignant but it plays more like something from one of those trippy late-'60s movies like Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? And in case you weren't paying attention to the recent news out of Cannes that didn't involve Lars Von Trier making jokes about Nazis, this movie just won the Palme d'Or, y'all.
Other Terrence Malick Films You Might Start With And Enjoy More If You're New To Him: Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and, my personal favorite, 1973's Badlands, the one with Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen driving around on a killing spree for nothing more than kicks.