Friday, 17 February 2012

2011: Life Odyssey

It's been a while since there has been a film that is quite like the one we are looking at today. In fact, the last film I think that is at all similar to it is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's got the same visual effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull and everything. A film about life and our world. It's nominated for three Oscars. (Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Director.) It's called The Tree Of Life.

A rather difficult movie to sum up since it has a non-linear narrative. Focus is definitely needed. The story is of a family in Texas in the 1950s, particularly focusing on Jack (portrayed by Hunter McCracken as a child and Sean Penn as an adult) and his relationship with his mother, Mrs O'Brian (Jessica Chastain), and his father, Mr O'Brian (Brad Pitt). It focuses mainly on the innocent childhood of Jack leading into his more delinquent years and his adult life. The film is supposed to symbolise him as a lost soul in the world trying to find answers to the big questions and struggling with faith. Also, there is plenty of metaphorical scenery that establish plot points.

Jack had a rather bubbly personality.

A cracking performance (pun intended) from young Hunter McCracken. It's rare to come across movies that rely on a very serious performance from such a young actor but McCracken nailed it. Especially next to Brad Pitt's excellent portrayal of a dominating father. I personally preferred Pitt's performance here to his in Moneyball. It was shorter but there was something raw behind it... And also something that is a lot easier to relate to. I was disappointed that there wasn't more Sean Penn in the movie. His part could have been far greater with more time. As it was, he just seemed a little unused.

What really made this movie stand out was the technical elements. A very well written piece of film, layered in metaphors and subtext. It shows us all of creation and its complexity reveals how big those 'big' questions are and just how small we are. It inhabits the mind and digs out all of those unanswered questions and places them on screen for all to see. Kind of like a serious version of Monty Python's Meaning of Life. And the cinematography was like nothing I can think of. It was beautiful. It was constantly visually outstanding and obviously heavily thought about. Every shot had purpose. And it was all edited together so wonderfully. Terrence Malick, writer and director, obviously but more effort than most when creating this piece of art. That is what it is: art. Definitely a competitor for Best Director, as we all know the Oscars like to shock everyone. (Tom Hooper has an Oscar and David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky don't?)

The desert didn't really suit Sean Penn
As a piece of art, I would give this 5 stars. As a movie, it is incredible too. It was a completely absorbing 2 hours of film that moved swiftly from the story of evolution to emotional family disputes. The acting was brilliant and the film was beautifully shot. I was pondering about how good I thought it to be, but, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film gets better the more it is thought about. While it could be interpreted as a load of superfluous shots of rivers, it really is a profound and complex experience.

Best bit? A family domestic around the dinner table kicks off. Some of my favourite acting in the movie, even though it was brief.

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