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To the Wonder


Stars: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem. Tatiana Chiline

Director: Terrence Malick

The latest film from ageing American wunderkind Malick is an interminable if faux-lyrical meditation on the nature of love and its demands, which is surely not as big a deal as the director would have us believe.

Aspiring writer Neil (Affleck at his most morose) hooks up with flaky Marina (Kurylenko) in Paris and, as she pirouettes around the countryside, they enjoy a lyrical affair, especially on a trip to Mont St Michel, once known as The Wonder.

Marina, who fled to France from Ukraine and married a Frenchman, who ran off and left her with a daughter (now 10), eventually accompanies Neil to Sticksville, Oklahoma, where he abandons writing ambitions to become an environmental inspector, and they move into a characterless house that remains curiously unfurnished.

Here the partnership stagnates, and the daughter (Chiline) urges Marina to return to France - which she does, suiting Neil, and us, as the woman is a crashing, clinging bore. Neil soon falls for old flame Jane (McAdams), until she decides it's time to move on, for no apparent reason (or perhaps because of the lack of furniture) and Marina, now sans daughter, who has gone to live with Papa, returns and marries Neil. He actually buys a few sticks of furniture, which he promptly destroys in a row, as they are soon at each other's throats again.

The pacing to all this is leaden throughout, with lots of lingering shots of Neil and Marina (or Jane) looking gooey-eyed, amid some pretty and often strikingly photographed countryside; as befits a Malick film, there's lots of corn on show here in more ways than one.

There are admittedly subplots - one about local smelting polluting the land, and another concerning a Spanish priest (a cruelly wasted Bardem) searching for confirmation of his faith - but, like Jane, they just drift away. The director has said that he encouraged the actors to improvise, but, if he did so, it met with little success.

If you must go To the Wonder, a flask of black coffee may see you through to the end. The film has English, French and Spanish dialogue, although little enough of each.

David Quinlan

USA 2012. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour by deluxe.
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 18 Feb 2013