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Tree of Life, The


Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Fiona Shaw, Irene Bedard, Jessica Fuselier, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan

Director: Terrence Malick

Writer-director Malick has made a great movie. Sadly it isn’t this one. For me his musings on the meaning of life became increasingly precious and less interesting or meaningful by the minute

No, the great movie was called Badlands and that was back in 1973. Since then he has made only four movies in 30 years, each more affected than its predecessor. With this overlong (if ever a Tree needed drastic pruning, it is this one) and woefully underpowered offering, he bids fair to add the Oscar for Most Pretentious Picture to the Academy Award it actually deserves, namely an Oscar for Emmanuel Lubezki’s luminous cinematography.

Unfortunately, while The Tree of Life looks magnificent, while you can wrap a rotten egg in gold foil it will still taste and smell terrible.

The film purports to tell the story of a family in Waco, Texas in the 1950s. Some of the sequences – but nowhere near all of them – seemed to confirm this alleged storyline as we meet stern paterfamilias Pitt, his wife Chastain and his sons who grow up before our eyes but not necessarily in that order, in a series of disconnected scenes linked by what seemed to me to be a series of interludes featuring the birth of the universe and of the world, dinosaurs and travels through time which resembled a series of unlinked schools broadcasts and which appeared to be redundant to the story. Except that, for me, Malick failed to tell his story in anything approaching a coherent or holding way.

We learn one son is killed as a teenager, another grows up to be a gloomy Penn who mopes morosely among skyscrapers before joining the rest of the cast – and dozens of characters we have not met before – at the climax to walk barefoot along a beach that is almost as endless as the film itself. Pitt does as well as he can with his disconnected scenes and the children deserve praise.

I found watching this epic of self-indulgent fillmaking like having to sit though a stranger’s near-endless photo album. Malick, however, clearly loved every moment: reportedly his first cut was eight hours (the final cut seems much, much longer) and he spent three years editing it for release.

But, in fairness, I should add that if you are an insomniac, the film might just solve your problem.

Also in fairness, I should record the film won the Palme D’'Or at Cannes and has received a veritable tsunami of rave reviews which hail Malick as an unique auteur and his film as a masterpiece. For the record, though, it was also booed in Cannes, which may say rather more about reviewers than they would want.

Clearly I don’t know my arts from my elbow. Sorry.

At one stage Chastain says: “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by”. Unlike The Tree of Life.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour by deluxe.
139 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Jul 2011