The Tree of Life
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
Review at National Board of Review web site
Original review posted on May 27, 2011
The Tree of Life, the fifth film by director Terrence Malick, is a masterpiece of narrative and style. While this may not help in the marketplace against X-Men, Green Lanterns and drunk bachelors in Bangkok, it will resonate with anyone willing to be challenged–and rewarded–by an unconventional and completely original filmmaker at the top of his game.
Malick’s previous films–Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005) have for the most part stood the test of time. Each film features actors who were–or were to become–major stars. And each reveals its narrative in less obviously dramatic and more thoughtful ways than other films of their genres. Badlands slows down the drive of its predecessor, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and allows us to feel the way Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek’s pre-punk rebels are part of the landscape that created them. Days of Heaven takes a doomed love triangle and places it into the seductive light (much of it shot in the magic hour just before sunset) and landscapes of the Midwest. The Thin Red Line is a richly character-based war drama that explores death and loss from an unexpectedly philosophical viewpoint. The New World examines the first meeting between Native Americans and Europeans in a way that makes the pristine forests as important as the characters. Malick has a talent to transcend what others might see as limitations of genres and to turn them into meditations on the essential questions of life–why are we here? What should we do about it? What is the true nature of the world itself?