Movie reviews by
3 ½ (out of 4)
The current cultural climate would indicate these are not the times in which a filmmaker as uncompromising and recently erratic as Terrence Malick would prosper. But, at least in terms of unmitigated productivity, my god, the man has seriously redefined his work ethic to the exact polar extreme of the strict selectivity of his 20th century career. It really feels like some executive at Fox should have told him to stop sometime along the way but his prolific drive has miraculously let him mold the most controversial, disputed, discussed and otherwise divisive entries of his filmmaking pilgrimage.
A Hidden Life is the first Malick feature in a long while to bear an identifiable narrative structure after a streak of five variably experimental projects during the last decade. There’s no stopping him either, as Malick's next enterprise is already on deck: the extended renaissance of America’s most cloistered moviemaker continues with Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul) as Jesus and Oscar winner Mark Rylance as four separate manifestations of Satan in the forthcoming The Last Planet.
In retrospect, however, the greatness of The Tree of Life will surely remain uncontested as it tops numerous best of the decade lists but otherwise all bets are off – the significance of the stretch from To the Wonder through Knight of Cups and Song to Song and finally Voyage of Time will be forever questioned. But with relative, specific and passionate confidence I can say A Hidden Life is Malick’s legitimate return to form, his most sweepingly beautiful and actively meaningful motion picture since his tremendous, awe-inspiring peak with The New World and The Tree of Life, though this is not so say equally valid arguments cannot be made for Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line.
In years of late he has categorically bent the fabric of the medium to the point of ineffectual disrepair. While I'll happily defend the ethereal artistry of Wonder and Knight, I would certainly not be the first to denounce Song and Voyage as needless, uninspired and almost satirical. Now, Malick returns to the emotionally blistering breadth of his earlier historical renditions, a dependable formula back in employment with a newly exploratory era fortunately at its end.
Relentlessly ruminating on faith, nature, principles and dogmas, Malick's impeccable eye and intrinsic ability to extol martyrs and noble detractors magnifies a particular instance of personal devotion into broad implications on social and political injustices. This isn’t Hacksaw Ridge – the moral sincerity of A Hidden Life notes how much doing the right thing can cost you without going into Mel Gibson-level preaching or religious symbolism. Malick's unrestricted sensibilities are nonetheless as indulgent and uncompromising as ever, patiently taking three contemplative hours to contrast the rustic contentment and idyllic day to day of a Polish farmer with the extensive reach of Hitler’s totalitarian reign and the senseless brutality of Nazi prison camps.
It’s the kind of masterpiece that will be a struggle to revisit casually but A Hidden Life has more urgency, ethical deliberation and scenic resplendence than several of Malick's late-era improvised one-offs combined. It’s riveting and harrowing, and just as surreally edited, probingly photographed and narratively unconcerned as his best and most frustrating creations, though those classes are certainly not mutually exclusive. Malick also improves his prescribed whispery voice-overs by using actual letters exchanged by the central separated couple – played to painful perfection by August Diehl and Valerie Pachner – as a way to upgrade an auteur trademark (and easy point of mockery) from inner monologue to longing longhand, bettering the excruciating power of the acting, not to mention the filmmaker's other celestial, prayer-like characteristics.
This will be an agonizing beauty to those with enough attention to submit to an imposing vision, a brutal bore to those unaccustomed to the auteur's predilections and sure to be generally ignored since Malick's capricious career has all but abandoned whatever mainstream appeal it once maintained. It’s probably preferable that way as audiences with the tolerance for and interest to seek out A Hidden Life are far likelier to appreciate the painstaking process of lucid misfortune.
The spellbinding synthesis of stunning compositions and James Newton Howard (scoring his only Malick feature just like other heavyweights in his field like Hans Zimmer, James Horner and Alexandre Desplat) assisted by choice classical selections is a faintly familiar, breathtaking catharsis. The firm defense of selflessness and unshakable fealty at the expense of subjective logic, let alone the traditional execution of plot, is what affirms the film's greatness. A Hidden Life finds an American legend back in tune with the potentiality of his innovative formal singularity and fervid spiritual resolve.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice