Review: To The Wonder

To The Wonder

To The Wonder - Credit: Archant

During his four decades as Hollywood's designated reclusive genius, Terrence Malick has become famous for shooting hundreds of hours of footage then cutting it down into films that are often completely different from what was first envisaged.

Famous names on Malick's cutting room floor for the Thin Red Line included Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, Martin Sheen and Viggo Mortensen.

Here, Elisabeth Weisz, Jessica Chastain and Michael Sheen were at some point under the impression they were in this film. They shouldn't be too disappointed; nobody's really in this film. None of us make Malick's final cut anymore.

Theoretically a romance, the story is more From The Wonder. Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina's (Olga Kurylenko) love blooms in the old world beauty of Mont St Michel in France, before the location shifts to the arid Oklahoma plains where he has brought Kurylenko and her 10-year-old daughter to live. Later, Jane (Rachel McAdams) also falls briefly for him. He cannot quite respond to their feelings. Elsewhere, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is a priest who wanders around to no great end.

Malick is like a man who has given away all his material possessions to be closer to God. In his pursuit of making pure expressions of spiritual rapture, he has pared down his style so far that he has dispensed with all tenets of conventional drama.

Instead, his cast spend the whole film walking slowly away – often while looking back over their shoulder at the camera or while the camera circles round them or sometimes as the camera conducts low-level fly passes. They twirl and spin as if part of some unending BBC station ident.

It is a vision that is meant to celebrate existence but, in practice, diminishes it. It reduces humanity to a bunch of spinning woodentops, mechanical dolls who can only perform two or three movements. Giving nothing but extreme high and low, a slideshow of mournful stares and smiles, it is like an extended music promo video; perhaps for a Classic FM compilation.

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Nobody is quite as diminished by this vision as Affleck. Even J Lo didn't make him look this foolish. Throughout you wonder why two vivacious, attractive ladies lavish their attentions on this mute, unresponsive lunk? Could it really be that Neil represents the distant, unresponsive God everybody in the film is searching for?


Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, Charles Baker and Romina Mondello

Length: 116 mins