Jim Review- The Tree of Life

This is going to be a difficult task. Terrence Malick is a different kind of director and even his most conventional films are difficult to review. I won't say that he is indifferent towards his audience, because I don't think that's true. I will say that he knows what story he wants to tell and how he wants to tell it, and if you aren't right there then you will be left behind. He does not compromise to simplify or to make his work more accessible, opting instead to remain steadfastly true to his vision.

We are talking about a man who, for his third feature in 25 years, turned in a 6 hour cut of a war film. Six. Hours. Think about this. We are not talking about Jimmy Cameron coming in with "Titanic" in his back pocket, or Chris Nolan after "The Dark Knight" throwing this film down for a studio that owes him one. This is a guy who made a few moody, atmospheric masterpieces coming in with a move that could get MAYBE two screenings a day in.

Granted it was eventually cut down to 170 minutes (that's right, the three hour one was the shortened version). In that form it was powerful enough to make me really wish for the chance to see the full deal.

I guess what I'm saying is that Malick is a difficult guy to pin down, even when his work is more conventional.

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The thing is, "The Tree of Life," is anything but conventional. By that I do not mean that it flaunts or challenges conventions, but rather that it does not acknowledge the existence of convention at all.

I believe this needs to be repeated. If you go into this film looking of any sort of conventional narrative structure you will be disappointed. This is a good movie, but it is not what you are expecting. Even if you think you know what it is, even if you enjoy it you need to remember this. You are not going to see the movie you expected.

At this point a review of this film becomes very difficult to write for two reasons. The first is that it involves describing something that is essentially indescribable. The second, I am not entirely sure what I feel about this movie. I know that I liked it, but I'm... it's just hard to say. For lack of any other way of expressing myself, I guess I've never seen anything like it before and that is a strange and interesting experience for me.

There were times during my viewing where I thought that somehow an incorrect reel had been added. There were other times where it felt like I was watching an extended version of the trailer. I know what you're thinking, "Aren't all trailers just shorter versions of the movie? No, they aren't. Watch the trailer again, there are good stretches of the movie that play exactly this way. I don't want to ruin anything, but what happens in these moments is breathtaking.

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Now, there is a story after a fashion, but you have to put some work into it. This is a film shown in very intimate close up, but is not laid out for you. The characters aren't introduced to you as an audience member, but rather as an unseen observer. Is that a neighbor or a family member? You kind of have to figure that out. Absolutely nothing is handed to you here. There are moments in this film that you may not be able to make sense of, but that is the point of this film. It is about life and what we as individuals bring to it.

As strange as this might sound, I think this is the most subjective film I've ever seen. There is very little solid or concrete in this. Your attitudes, feelings, and reactions are all chained to the reality of the moments. You will both love and hate Brad Pitt. You sympathize with and despise Jack. Jessica Chastain will make you feel safe in one breath and completely exposed in the next.

Were I to use one word to describe this move it would be gorgeous. I mean crazy gorgeous. I mean, think of the most amazingly shot film you've ever seen, now imagine the movie that makes it look like a piece of crap. I don't know, or really care, about the major awards, but I think we might have seen the first front runner. If nothing else this will take every cinematography award given this year.

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The performances.... Well,... damn. Just... damn. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain take a flamethrower to every other acting job I've seen this year. Both of them are completely authentic and thoroughly hypnotic. The three young men who play their sons give absolutely stunning performances, especially Hunter McCracken as Young Jack, played as an older man by Sean Penn who is... well, he's Sean Penn, I don't really think more needs be said here. McCracken has to do some pretty heavy lifting here and he makes it look effortless.

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Malick achieves one of the most pitch perfect examples of impressionism I've ever seen. This film is sweeping, and exists in the fragments of emotion that form a person's life. It breathes in the spaces between the memories we hold on to and the meaning we take from those memories. It shows us our lives and our world from the absolute ground up, and leaves the weight of meaning on your shoulders. If you need a film to be spelled out for you, if you are looking for some light summer entertainment, or if you don't like or want to think about the movie you are watching, then you most likely will not enjoy "The Tree of Life." It is a challenging film, but it is also a brilliant film that is most definitely worth seeing.



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