To The Wonder
From director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line), a stunningly beautiful, romantic film about love and faith. A man (Ben Affleck) is torn between the love of two women. With Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko.
© 2012 Redbud Pictures, LLC
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Beautifully filmed romance chooses style over substance.
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Top Critic Reviews
Rotten: The film breaks faith with its audience by asking us to care about two profoundly antipathetic characters spouting pseudo-poetic banalities.
- Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal, Thursday, April 11, 2013
Meditative and reflective, "To The Wonder" is an ethereal glimpse at the emotions of love as perceived by director Terence Malick. Not for everyone and described by one patron as "over two hours of leaves blowing in the wind", Malick's latest is much more down to earth than "The Tree Of Life", but still relies heavily on strong earthly ties like flowers and water. But seeing these images with the subtle scores and delicate nuances brings all brands of emotions from those willing to invest, allowing for one of the most spiritual experiences one can have during a film, the same inflicted by "The Tree Of Life". Like a majority of Malick films, most of the actors could have been anyone. Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem are for the most part just stepping off points for the females around them. Olga Kurylenko captures the heart of the revolving emotions perfectly, presenting an almost childish perspective on the essence of love. Her dancing and spinning captures the lively moments well while her looks of sadness are almost devastating to experience. Also, with how little she is present, Rachel McAdams is also able to reflect some of the same reflections, making it that much harder to see her go. As with most of Malick's body of work, "To The Wonder" is definitely not for everyone but is a much lighter experience than some of his previous films. For me, these films are a form of church, allowing for a deeper look into not just a body of emotions, but into myself as well.
- xas5, Sunday, April 14, 2013
I am down with Malik's intentions. I relish the kind of cinema that doesn't make things easy for an audience, and I see that here without a hint of pretentiousness or self-importance. Many won't and that is their choice. But personally, To The Wonder is the very best kind of romanticized cinema; unconventional, audience dividing, and yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time.
- lovedjay, Saturday, April 13, 2013
Alright, now, before I get into my old routine of making mildly amusing, or at least charmingly desparate humor and whatnot, let's get serious for a second, because this film was the absolute last to be reviewed by the all too recently and all too quickly departed Roger Ebert, a true legend of the film critic industry that was never the same since him and never will be quite the same without him, so let us take a moment to recognize his accomplishments and take comfort in knowing that he went out the way I'd imagine he always wanted to go out: after watching an artistic film that he truly loved. Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's discuss how I am anything but in love with this film, and how it is arguably Terrence Malick's weakest effort. Granted, the film is still pretty decent, which is more than what you can say about "Days of Heaven", but after that moment of genuineness, I figured I'd really toss in that jarring mood shift to jolt your attention a bit, because I'd imagine just hearing about a Terrence Malick film is enough to make you doze off for a second, even if they are better than any given art house film of this nature ('Merica, a place where even the boring films are more exciting), unless, of course, you're already jolted awake by the shock of finding that Malick has a new film. Man, the dude sure knows how to sneak a film in on you, and you can tell that he just kind of tossed this film together, because it's just under two hours, rather than, like, four or five hours (I joke, but there are missing extended cuts of Malick's other films that prove that he is, in fact, insane), and replaced Christian Bale with Ben Affleck about as quickly as they announced that Bale would be starring in this. Eh, it couldn't have taken them too long to realize that Affleck is a perfect replacement for Batman, as Daredevil is as blind as a bat, sonar and all (Ba-dum-bum), and if you think that's a cheesy thing to say, just wait until you get two hours of people whispering about romantic mumbo jumbo. I don't know about y'all, but Malick could have at least held your attention by providing more shots of of Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams from behind, if you know what I'm saying, and if you think that that's a tasteless thing to say, well, shoot, most critics might actually agree with me this time, because even they have to admit that Malick has stepped over the line with his somberness. Sure, I like the film just fine, but the fact of the matter is that there's little to "wonder" about (Again, ba-dum-bum) when it comes to why critics, other than Ebert (Boo-hoo-hoo), have some complaints. Needless to say, this film's pacing never strays too far away from slow... like, at all, but there are subtle shifts in momentum, at least in "plotting" structure, that you'd be hard pressed to not be thrown off by at times, for although the film is always steadily meditative, there are certain areas in which the film focuses intensely on meandering nothingness and filler, and certain other areas in which the film actually skips along what exposition there is, thinning it out and neglecting to flesh out the layers to this "story", until you end up with a film that is about as undercooked as it is inconsistent. As you can imagine, the unevenness in pacing that will slapdash development along at an offputting speed, then suddenly halt to meditate upon where the film ends up, rather than how it gets there, drives inconsistency into focus, which throws what plot there is all over the place and distances you, much like characterization, yet another area in this film that is plagued with inconsistency. I think it's safe to say that every Terrence Malick film has been something of a character piece, yet his tastes in characterization have always been quetionably stylish, and sure enough, with this film, the handling of characters is hardly smooth or consistent, often presenting genuinely believable behavior that leaves our characters to come off a buyably human, even if the aforementioned character development keeps you from getting too invested, and just as often descending into Terrence Malickisms that meditate deeply upon spirituality and distance you from the more relatable, believable and slightly more humanly superficial depths of the characters, who come off as not too much more than particularly celebrated components to the film's experimental and heavily arty dreaminess. At the very least, all of this hyper-lyrical meditation upon spirituality in the midst of deeply emotional dramatic situations calls your attention more toward the histrionics of this film, which come off a cheesily unsubtle and further distancing, thus leaving the final product to face yet more shortcomings as a messy character piece, much like most of Malick's other, better efforts, which were still able to work past their dramatic shortcomings just enough to engage as surprisingly good, unlike this film, which, from what I've been saying upon until, seems to be no more flawed than your usual Malick opus, but ends up getting a bit too carried away with a certain flaw that has always been key in Malick films: aimlessness. As good as the still mighty messy "The Tree of Life" is, its plot and conflicts are thin something fierce, and the final product would be entirely ineffective without Malick's inspired moments of compensation, and with this film, while there's a bit more conflict, there's even less plot and narrative, as Malick pays too much attention into fleshing out style over substance, which has never been too meaty in Malick films, but is, in here, especially directionless and holes-heavy, and with Malick's directorial atmosphere behind the telling of this non-story coming off as bone-dry and challengingly dull as it usually is, you end up with a final product that is too formulaic as a Malick film in some areas, too questionably distinct in other areas, and consistently more distancingly cold than it should be. Sure, the film has its golden occasions, same as any other film by Malick, except maybe his even more underwhelming early "efforts", but this product's subtle differences go a long way in making the disengaging flaws that have always kept Malick films from coming close to their full potential even more problematic, until you end up with a film that comes close to genuinely good, but just ends up falling behind as kind of underwhelming. With that said, while something like "Holy Motors" is a mighty low standard, where this film could have slipped into the frustrating mediocrity that claims other meditative pieces of its type, it does enough right to win you over as a decent film with decent dramatic beats and a stellar taste in artistry, even in the musical departments. Terrence Malick sure knows his visuals, and you better believe that I'll be touching more upon that here in a little bit, but it should also be noted that his tastes in artistry for your ears is almost, if not decidedly as breathtakingly rich as his tastes in visual artistry, and while Malick's tastes in this film's audio value, brought to life by sound designer Erik Aadahl and supervising sound editors Craig Berkey and Joel Dougherty, really gives you a feel for the sounds of silence that exacerbate the dull atmospheric dryness, it near-hypnotically immerses you into this environment, while really letting you soak up something else in the audible artistry department that is worthy of praise: the music, because whether it be Hanan Townshend's original score or a soundtrack that features works by such legends of traditional, modern and contemporary classical music as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Henryk Mikolaj Grecki, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and so on and so forth, the musical efforts in this film stun with a rich soul that you can only get in "real" music (You've got to love rock, and you've got to love Bach). If its grace isn't exacerbating the dulling dreaminess of the film, this classical score and soundtrack is helping in breathing life into this film's spirit, drawing on and selling depths in a fashion that keeps the film going and plays a, so to speak, instrumental part in igniting high points, whose genuineness must also deliver some serious thanks to the acting department. As always, Malick puts together a limited, but impressively star-studded cast, filled with talents who have only so much to work with in their attempts at compensation for characterization issues, but still manage to do the best that they can in earning your investment, with Ben Affleck being very quietly charming and occasionally subtly engaging as a good, but flawed man who must face expected challanges and regretably questionable decisions as he explores his relationships, while the unevenly used Javier Bardem subtly engages as a noble priest, and our leading lady, a particularly very beautiful Olga Kurylenko, shockingly carries things, being too underwritten to necessarily be revelatory, but atmospherically graceful in her heartfelt portrayal of a woman whose life is shaken every which way by love. There's really not too much to praise when it comes to the performances, as they are so underwritten, but what is done right by our performers, from subtle emotional range to surprisingly effective chemistry, feels genuinely inspired, complimenting this very meditative art piece with more graceful humanity than there is in the writing and "story"telling departments, though not as much grace as the department in which this film most accels: the photographic departments. Emmanuel Lubezki returns as Malick's cinematographer after lensing "The Tree of Life", which is, at the very least, really, really high up there as one of the most beautiful films in years, and may even be one of the most beautiful films ever shot (I love Robert Richardson, but forget "Hugo" and forget the Oscars!), and while this film isn't quite as heart-stoppingly stunning as the last Malick-Lubezki collaboratation, oh man, it is, as predicted, yet another marvelously beautiful testament to Malick's at least having one of the best visual styles out there, featuring dynamic camerawork and framing scope plays that are both tightly immersive and hypnotically dreamy, as well as coloring that is breathtakingly lush, and lighting that is passionately celebratory of natural beauty in the environments in a gothically dreamy way that is never less than radiant and very often awe-inspiring. There's plenty to compliment and plenty to complain about with this film, but the visual style of this effort is difficult to fully describe and really has to be seen in order to be believed, being the highest note in Malick's direction, though not the only strong moment in Malick's efforts, for although the telling of this very Terrence Malicky tale is particularly cold and aimless, as well as as dull as Malick's direction usually is, there's a consistent charming degree of heart to this film to keep you going between the occasions in which Malick gains a firm enough grip on atmosphere and resonance to truly move, maybe not to the point of producing tears, but decidedly to the point of giving you glimpses at what could have been. If you've been frustrated with other, actually genuinely good Malick efforts for squnadering their potential on style and challengingly slow, maybe even boring meditativeness, well, you might not be particularly disappointed in this film, what with its basic story concept's being decidedly thinner than the concepts of "The Thin Red Line" or "The New World", but make no mistake, much goes unrealized in this film, same as any other Terrance Malick film, enough so that it comes off as not simply underexploratory of its full potential, but just plain underwhelming, though not so much so that you can't appreciate what is done right, for although I wish there was more to cling to here, there's still enough inspiration behind this project to get by as quite decent and reasonably worth watching, if you've the considerable patience and aesthetic eye for it that is. In conclusion, the film hits such usual Terrance Malick flaws as structural and focal unevenness, as well as distancingly uneven, sometimes even barely genuinely human characterization, unsubtle melodrama, and, of course, challeningly dull atmospheric dryness, while being even more aimless than ever in its "plotting", until the final product sputters out as particularly underwhelming as a Malick potential-squanderer, but by a little more than a hair, being rich with such expected Malick film strengths as immersive sound work, exceptional classical music, gracefully inspired, if pretty underwritten performances, - bonded through unexpectedly strong chemistry - and a truly spectacular visual style, whose stunning inspiration reflects the ambition that is occasionally fulfilled through all too underseen moments of resonance, and sparks the considerable charm that plays a large part in making "To the Wonder" a decent, if a bit challenging meditative drama, in spite of its many shortcomings. 2.75/5 - Decent
- crossbladezero, Saturday, May 11, 2013