The Tree of Life Directed by: Terrence Malick Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain Running Time: 2 hrs 18 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 10, 2011 (wide)
PLOT: The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. Tradegy strikes and parents, and the oldest brother look back on their lives and how it intertwines with God and the universe.
WHO'S IT FOR? Are you a pompous film critic or aspire to be? You'll probably be loving this movie as a badge of honor. I don't see myself that way. I like to think I'm a movie fan before critic. I found beauty in this slow moving, wandering story. It's almost as simple as that.
The film starts with Job: 38 4-7, and we will too.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
The Tree of Life is ... it feels like ... um ... can I just say I really liked it and it's an insanely audacious film by a filmmaker I will always appreciate? Is that enough for you people? No? Oh, OK, well then it's on with the review.
The Tree of Life is about looking back after a family is struck down by the death of a son, and how that may or may not connect with the larger cosmos of God and the universe. It's a film that demands you bring your personal beliefs right along with you. If you're thinking, "What the hell does that mean?" Films like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides don't require any heavy lifting, this film does.
It overwhelms. Mr. (Pitt) and Mrs. O'Brien (Chastain) lose their teenage son. They look back to his childhood. Jack (Penn) is the grown brother. He looks back to the moments they shared. The film looks back to the beginning of time. Seriously, the beginning of time.
The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and Malick's mind make such a beautiful union. I know I could see some of the same things on the Discovery Channel, but I couldn't feel them the same way that Malick allows. Science fiction films don't normally slow down to this pace. That's why some of this imagery immediately made me think back to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Earlier in this review I said "may or may not connect." I know the characters have faith and don't understand why God would take their son. I don't. I can appreciate and feel their turmoil and struggle, but I think the film actually illuminates how insane we are to think it's all connected. The concept that God listens individually to us as the Bible would have you believe doesn't register for me the same way that someone/something created this universe and now we're on our own.
The film is compromised of voiceovers, half sentences and quick images. We don't even learn the details of how Steve dies. It's like 80 percent slow montage, and if you're a regular reader, you know I like my montage. Fourth of July, dinosaurs, a new baby, the big bang ... they all blend together in The Tree of Life.
At first, it seems to be Chastain's movie in what I would easily consider her breakout role. Visually, she reminds me of my sister; strawberry-blonde, fare skin and a huge heart for her children. That hit me emotionally. Suddenly I found myself watching Steve (Tye Sheridan) play as a child with his brother Jack (Hunter McCracken) and I realized he would never get married and have children of his own. Plus, Malick filmed a scene at Hamilton Pool Springs, where I asked my wife to marry me. So yes, this film felt totally personal.
Pitt eventually makes his presence known and nails the performance as the father full of controlled rage and expectations. He expects disciple and respect from his children, even when he doesn't deserve it. Penn didn't need to be there. Seriously. I didn't need adult Jack at all. He's barely present, walking the streets, standing in an elevator and wandering in a desert. I can't really say that should go, because it you analyze each image this film has to offer, it's impossible to say what should have been cut and what should stay. Also, the adult Jack is an architect and that lends itself so well to a film crafted on angles, sweeping camera moments and beautiful houses, which make everything worth looking at. The Tree of Life lingers with everything it does and doesn't do.
Do you want to bring something to the table? Go think and feel The Tree of Life.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10