Kenneth Turan and Marshall Fine's dismissal of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, despite almost everyone falling it for in Cannes and a very strong 85% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating, tells me it may not figure that strongly in the Best Picture race.
And so what, right? Malick has never made an "Academy film," and Life is probably, as Turan complains, too "opaque" for mainstreamers. It'll be their loss at the end of the day. History will not look kindly. "Meh" was the farthest thing from my mind as I watched the first 40 minutes' worth, and yet I knew, deep down, that the lack of a narrative through-line would be a stopper for more than a few.
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"Look, I get it," Fine says. "Malick makes the movies he wants to make in the way he wants to make them. He communicates visually and through indirection (as opposed to misdirection). In doing so, he summons surprising emotion, given how ephemeral his actual story-telling is. But impatience does accrue - not so much a feeling of 'what's the point?' as 'get to the point.' The Tree of Life is a film that's too precious and wispy, too insubstantial in its artiness, to be satisfying in virtually any way."
I was more on the fence in my initial Cannes review. Life "does lose itself in its own impressionistic quicksand after the first half-hour," I wrote. "It begins to drown, sink, swallow itself. The center cannot hold. But it's entirely worth seeing (and praising) for the portions that clearly and unmistakably deliver. I'm especially referring to what people will soon be calling the 2001/Douglas Trumbull section. Who in the big-budget realm is even trying to make pure art films like this except Malick?"