The Tree of Life (2011)

Feature Film | Drama | USA | English | 1h19m
Dir: Terrence Malick | Scr: Terrence Malick | DP: Emmanuel Lubezki | Prod: Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, Brad Pitt, & William Pohlad | Mus: Alexandre Desplat | Ed: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, & Mark Yoshikawa | PD: Jack Fisk | Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan
About 30 minutes into Terrence Malick’s remarkable film – his finest work since his return from the wilderness in the late ‘90s – I found myself worrying that the pace and intensity of this nevertheless extraordinary opening sequence would never relent. As scene after scene bled unremittingly into the next, with The Big Bang and the fall of the dinosaurs, filtered through maternal grief and middle-aged regret, occupying my eyes, ears, and mind to such an extent that I feared, much as with Sorrentino's Il Divo (2008) and Scorsese's Casino (1995), that I would soon find myself in desperate need of a darkened room in which to lie down and attempt to recover from the audio-visual pummelling that I’d just received. Luckily, soon afterwards, the pace did yield to my overheated frontal lobes, relaxing into a more traditional, though still beautifully sensual and poetic, family drama, with a number of quieter, calmer moments, allowing me time to breathe and contemplate all that had come before. Said drama revolves around the upbringing of three boys in a middle-class family in suburban Waco, Texas, in the 1950s, contrasting the clashing parental styles of their strict disciplinarian father (Pitt) and their nurturing, ethereal mother (Chastain, captivating), concentrating on the experiences of the eldest brother, Jack (the excellent McCracken), as remembered by his doleful middle-aged self (Penn), detailing memories of parental clashes, adolescent rebellion, and lost youth. The performances are all excellent, the photography transporting, the editing lyrical, and the score bewitching, with the overall effect being one of intense, almost overwhelming beauty. It's not for everyone, certainly, but for those that prize sensual experience and visual poetry above traditional storytelling, it will likely prove to be a tremendously affecting and rewarding film.