The problem is that with each new project, now arriving every other year, the potency of his films diminishes considerably. It seems Malick has less and less to say the more he exorcises what's in his head.
Here the titular Knight is Christian Bale who plays Rick, an executive involved in LA's film business in some capacity (it's never explained, the people around him seem to have the important conversations while Rick longingly stares out his window) who travels between LaLa Land and Vegas, sharing hotel rooms with models and strippers and revisits 6 former flames and...that's about it.
The two hour running time is largely taken up with a drifting camera that shoots Bale's back as he looks up at the clouds, looks up at statues or slowly walks into large impressive rooms with beautiful women, the likes of which most of us will never see ourselves.
KNIGHT OF CUPS, much like Malick's oeuvre on a whole, is an exercise in the cultivation of mood and dynamic editing - Narrative be damned!
The story (what there is of it) is propelled by the juxtaposition of images, from the neon-soaked Vegas Strip to the sun-soaked beaches of Santa Monica, the lens creeps along, searching out details and fleeting moments, but there's only so many wistful shots a viewer can take before it becomes as infuriating as it is beautiful.
Slivers of dialogue key us into any given scene but those wishing for a playful raconteur will be left pulling their hair out; no sooner do we hear the words than we get a smash-cut that takes us to another point in space and time and another shot of Bale staring at the concrete.
It would be all too easy to class KNIGHT OF CUPS as 'experimental'. It may well be, but the problem is the film smacks of film-school ambitions; a loose script (if any script whatsoever), a wandering, toe-shuffling, mopey 'protagonist', dreamy soft-focus shots of the sun breaking through trees or morning dew on a leaf and a ponderous love interest inspecting a handful of sand like she's never seen such a thing, all of it accompanied by impenetrably vague, whispered, pseudo-poetry.
And we've seen it all before. Bale plays the same guy Ben Affleck played in TO THE WONDER and both of them play the same guy Sean Penn played in THE TREE OF LIFE; a depressed, detached modern man, looking for the meaning of this whole mess in the cracks of painted walls or the spinning of windmills in the desert. Talent like Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman are wasted, their skills and efforts reduced to thousand-yard stares while wearing billowing silk dresses on the foreshore.
Perhaps it's time Malick takes another hiatus until he has a thesis to explore. Or maybe he's the bravest man working in Hollywood today and simply doesn't make films like anyone else and should be celebrated... Who knows?