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Movie Review: Tree Of Life

Admittedly, I missed Tree of Life in theatres. The likely winner of the Oscar for Best Cinematography is probably best seen on a large screen, not my 46incher at home. However, I at least made the attempt to watch it in bluray hi-def, so there’s something. But, Tree of Life is nothing if not visual, so make sure you see it on the best resolution possible.

Tree Of Life is a strong case for avant garde filmmaking. While I disapprove of the National Geographic Stock Footage segments that fill space in between the actual story, the basic plot of the film, “family”, is something that Terrence Malick has done perfectly. The film begins with two parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) lamenting the loss of their 19 year old son. After that, some stock footage fills time, and we are launched back to when that son of theirs was just a boy growing up. There is something beautifully realistic about these segments, because its not told in traditonal storytelling. You feel almost as if you are there witnessing their lives, not even through family films, but right there with them. It’s oddly real, something most filmmakers strive to capture.

Oddly, there is no hype for Hunter McCracken, who makes a bold breakthrough performance as the young version of Jack, later played sparingly by Sean Penn. Hunter feels like the neighbor’s kid, and every choice he makes is shockingly real. This kid isn’t acting, he is the son of these two parents. He is the boy who suffers an overbearing father, and suffers the consequences he makes as a kid. He is a boy, in the vein of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, in that he desperately wants to be a boy, but his father is expecting him to be a man. This film would not have worked without Hunter.

Another terrific performance is from Brad Pitt, who you almost forget is Brad Pitt, as the overbearing father. Gone is the sweetness that has lured women into Brad Pitt over the years. This is a father, struggling to provide for his family, and bring his sons up right. Is he overbearing? Yes. But he’s trying the best way he knows how.

I can’t put this in my top 10, simply because Terrence Malick decided that Tree of Life needed to be something else. Whatever that is, a meditation on life or whatnot, is unnecessary. There are actual dinosaurs in a small segment of this film. He attempted to recreate 2001. He actually made a better film, but it is still marred by unnecessary footage. It’s like he thinks we’re all babies, and dangling the shiny objects in front of us will entertain you for hours. Not true. I was bored during these segment, which allowed me to venture off into the internet (since I saw this at home) instead of pay attention to pictures of the earth, space, organisms, and whatever else Malick chose to show.

But, I still recommend Tree of Life because the story at the heart of the film is beautiful, and well told. Superb acting, simplistic realism, and real emotion. That is Tree of Life. Just skip the other stuff.

 

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