Neil is the subject of a cautionary tale about the dangers of falling in love. He thinks he has met the woman of his dreams when the European Marina flies over to the States to be with him. However, as beautiful and as perfect as their love seems, Neil can't stop seeing Jane; an old flame from the town he grew up in; as a spark is ignited between them once more. He becomes doubtful of his love life, and struggles to make sense of it while Father Quintana is equally struggling with his faith, unable to see past the pain and suffering in the world. Neil must understand that love is not perfect, nor is it easy in execution; you are at constant risk of failure, of betrayal and ultimately heartbreak. But love in its many forms is nonetheless a beauty, even if it can be unpredictable.
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Frankly, a bad Terrence Malick film is better than 90 percent of movies released in cinemas: but if you thought The Tree of Life was indulgent and overly kaleidoscopic, you should avoid this like the plague. Because this film is even looser and more internalised, taking an impressionistic approach to plot and characters that gives us very few specifics. It also leaves the cast to play mere hints of people who are having crises of faith and love.
After a lushly romantic trip to Paris and Mont Saint-Michel, Neil (Affleck) brings his French girlfriend Marina (Kurylenko) and her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Chiline) home to Oklahoma to live. The geography and culture are a shock to both of them, but Marina tells Neil, "If you love me, I'm OK here." So they begin to bond as a family, and Marina turns to local Catholic priest Quintana (Bardem) for support. But he's having a crisis of faith, and she's wondering if she's made a terrible mistake. So when her visa expires, she takes Tatiana and returns to France. In confusion, Neil then turns to his old flame Jane (McAdams). But as their rekindled romance begins to get serious, she realises that he's still in love with Marina.
Malick tells this story with snippets of ideas and feelings. Emmanuel Lubezki's sumptuous cinematography finds raw beauty everywhere, including in Malick's trademark sun-dappled leaves, waving wheat fields and rippling water. But there's also raw beauty in the actors' faces, and we understand their thoughts through breathy voiceovers that offer philosophical musings and biblical texts. As a result, only Marina emerges as a properly defined character with passion and yearnings; everyone else is sketchy and vague. Even Affleck and Bardem, who have strong on-screen presence, never quite register here.
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He's certainly not wasting his newfound talents.