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Friday, July 1, 2011

The Tree of Life review

We write reviews for real people with taste. Not for the average high school kid that is entertained by something like the second Transformers movie, but also not for film nerds who jizz themselves every time an auteur director comes out with something pretentious. There are people who loved The Tree of Life, and we loved PARTS of it, but this review is filled with caveats for the normal person.

Before you see this movie, here's what you need to know so that you won't be one of the MANY people walking out of this one:

1) Be aware that is a mostly visual experience. There’s very little dialogue, especially in the first hour. There’s not much of a premise, build-up, climax, resolution plot that you are used to in movies. It’s nonlinear.

2) You’re going to need quite the attention span to enjoy this. If you are not a patient person and are just looking for quick entertainment for the night, don’t even bother. The first hour is the most trying part of this movie. If you make it up to the birth of the couple’s children, then you will be out of the woods. You need patience to stick through this. During the creation montage, about 20 people in our theatre walked out, and we convulsed into laughing fits, making jokes. A guy was heard saying, "The is bulls***." One old woman, while walking out, just looked at us and busted out in laughter along with us. The mood was definitely, “WTF? This is just sad.” Pretty, but totally unaware of how it’s coming across. If you are a normal moviegoer, go with your funny little brother or your drunk friend, and you will greatly enjoy the first half. If you want a serious experience, don’t take this person. There is lots of unintentional humor in this movie’s first half. It’s a real shame, because it’s not what the director intended.

3) Yeah, it’s totally pretentious and at least 45 minutes too long. In the last 20 minutes, you will keep expecting the credits to roll only to keep seeing a bunch of people wandering on a beach. It’s like the ending of Lord of the Rings where they ended it five times, only you don’t care as much and it’s just one long ending rather than five short, good ones.

4) Everyone is talking about the performances. Brad Pitt is good, but his child actor son gets the most to do. Sean Penn has almost nothing to do except walk around and look morose, having his chin filmed. (The director chose to have the cameras sit underneath the actors’ faces and film them from that vantage point…a lot. We have not yet figured out the reason for this, but there has to be one).

5) It’s not as emotionally satisfying as you would believe from the trailer or from knowing the themes that are tackled. This movie should be incredibly emotionally satisfying, but it only really delivers the visual beauty. We chalk this up to the inconsistent tone. From boring to funny to real to pretentious and back to boring. It takes our moods through an unfortunate ride. There are some moments that ring true, especially between the parents and their children, but the movie has too much other stuff dragging that down.

The good: There is so little mentioning of spirituality in most mainstream movies and when it is mentioned, it is often trite and/or shallow. We will give this movie credit for taking on lots of huge universal themes and being very overtly spiritual. It’s ballsy, and sure to offend people who aren’t into that kind of thing. The “plot” of the movie is that a boy finds God. Don’t cry spoiler at us. There’s no plot, and even if there were, it’s not linear, and the main character mentions it in the beginning voiceovers.

When do you EVER see that in a quality movie with a budget that is not a made-for-TV special on the Hallmark channel, heavy-handed, cheesy, and specifically geared toward Christians? The message, introduced early, so this isn’t a spoiler, is that there are two paths, the one of nature and the one of grace. Nature is competitive and ruthless, and grace isn’t just out for itself. It also features lots of prayer.

The movie is beautiful. There is great animation and nature shots. It’s just gorgeous. We could have done without one horrible, screeching opera song during a space montage (and this is coming from an opera lover. Just because it’s classical music doesn’t mean it’s good music). But there was plenty of good classical music played after that. We loved Pitt’s character realizing that he had missed the point in life by trying to “be someone” and get glory, when he should have just existed and enjoyed what was important. The father-son relationship felt authentic. We know lots of fathers like that. The movie is easy to relate to.

The dialogue that was present (although there was very little) was to-the-point, good, and sometimes profound. The dialogue and message were tailor-made for this blogger, who places a higher value on grace than almost anything. Heck, knowing God is super up-there too. It’s not like this is Richard Dawkins writing this! The fact that this blogger didn’t love this movie is insane, since this is pretty much this guy’s target audience: Movie nerd softie who loves spiritual things and pretty pictures. This movie should have floored this blogger.

Best time and place to watch this? If there were ever a movie to go to alone, it’s this one. If you aren’t worried about what your companions are thinking and if you are in a completely serious mood, you will probably get to experience what the director wanted you to experience. As an art project celebrating the beauty of life and creation, it totally works. As a movie, it’s mostly pretty lousy, with a few good scenes.

First half: D
Second Half: B
Visuals: A+
As art: A
As gripping entertainment: D-
As a movie: C+

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