Terrence Malick Movies

Friday, July 22, 2011 at 11:58 am

Director Terrence Malick once did an uncredited rewrite of Dirty Harry. From what I can tell, that may have been the highlight of his career.

Of course, my assessment may seem a bit unfair considering that I’ve only seen one of Malick’s feature films. Not that I have many to choose from, mind you. In over 40 years in the filmmaking business, the number of feature-length Terrence Malick movies add up to a paltry five. A sixth is supposed to be scheduled for 2012. I’ll believe it when I see it.

But unlike most film directors, Malick has other ways of occupying his time. Before he started making motion pictures, he got his degree in philosophy from Harvard, studied at Oxford, taught at MIT, and wrote articles for The New Yorker and Newsweek. Then he made two feature films and disappeared from sight for 20 years.

Terrence Malick movies

The culprit behind all those dreadful Terrence Malick movies.

Despite his low output, a large segment of the critical community has lined up to kiss his ass at every turn. Maybe his reclusive nature reminds them of a cinematic J.D. Salinger, or maybe they’re just blinded by the starpower he’s able to assemble for his productions. Whatever the case, Terrence Malick movies routinely receive positive ink despite plodding narratives akin to paint drying.

But, again, I remind you that I’ve only seen one of his films. However, if that motion picture is any indication of his talent and vision, the number will remain at one.

For those of you who’ve yet to be put off by Malick’s films and/or general lack of directorial motivation, I offer up this brief synopsis of his works. I hope you find them more interesting than I did.

Badlands (1973) – While I hated the one Terrence Malick movie that I’ve viewed, I do plan on seeing his critically-acclaimed feature debut at some point. Set up like a violently modern fairy-tale, it stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a pair of young lovers who head across the American landscape and rack up a body count. I’m a sucker for anything with Warren Oates, so color me intrigued.

Days of Heaven (1978) – This depressing drama is set in the Texas Panhandle back in 1916, and it concerns the trouble that arises when a poor couple (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) try to take financial advantage of a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard). According to what I’ve read, it’s filled with symbolism and considered one of the landmark films of the 1970s. But despite my admiration for Shepard, it’s not something I plan to watch anytime soon.

Terrence Malick movies

Many of the characters trapped in Terrence Malick movies turn to the Japanese for sweet release.

The Thin Red Line (1998) – How do you screw up a WWII movie featuring Sean Penn, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Woody Harrelson, and John Cusack? Go ask Terrence Malick. The film runs almost three hours, the Japanese were never as compelling as the Nazis, and it has a habit of launching into yet another scene just when you think the credits are about to roll. Sure, it’s trying to say a lot of important things about the nature of man and the futility of war, but it puts you to sleep before the message can be received. Predictably, the critics couldn’t stop gushing (with Gene Siskel having the audacity to say it was better than Platoon and Saving Private Ryan).

The New World (2005) – The story of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher), Malick’s historical romance co-stars Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, and Wes Studi. While I consider Farrell a highly underrated actor, I don’t know if that’s enough to earn it a spot in my Netflix queue. Still, I might have to reconsider after seeing all the praise heaped on it by critics, especially those who refer to it as a 2 ½ hour poem (of course, many of these critics are the same ones who suggested seeing The Thin Red Line).

The Tree of Life (2011) – I oversee another site that provides movie reviews, and one of our critics excitedly requested an opportunity to see the latest Terrence Malick movie. If his review is any indication, potential viewers may receive more joy from sticking various items into a microwave and watching them melt. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn headline the picture, but it received a number of boos when screened at Cannes (although that didn’t stop it from winning the top prize). This one is reserved for the especially pretentious.

When he’s not waxing philosophic or planning his next 15-year movie project, Terrence Malick stays out of the public eye with a vengeance. In fact, his contract restricts the studio’s marketing department from using his image to promote his films. If I had directed The Thin Red Line, I wouldn’t want to show my face in public, either.

Despite my disdain for Terrence Malick movies, you might still want to give them a look and make up your own mind. The best way to accomplish this is by becoming a Netflix subscriber, as they allow you to watch films via your TV, home computer, or mobile device. I’ve been a loyal member since 2005, and I’ve yet to find a service that offers as many movies (over 100,000) or as many subscription options.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2011 at 11:58 am and is filed under Bad Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Terrence Malick Movies”

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September 10, 2011


In your synopsis of The Tree of Life you mention Sean Penn as Sean Pitt.(Just trying to help)

I liked The New World and Badlands but even Sean Penn had bad things to say about the final product of The Tree of Life. He said the screenplay was ripe with emotion but it doesn’t show on screen. I think I’ll skip it myself.

September 19, 2011


Whoops. Guess I better fix that. Thanks for the mention, John.

February 28, 2012

John Clifton

I give all the respect for the soldiers who fought at Guadalcanal, along with all the sailors at the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound. I’ve read a number of books about how grim this battle was, which proved to be one of the turning points in the Pacific War. But I just couldn’t like The Thin Red Line, however much I wanted to. I’m a Texan. I have a bad Texan accent myself. But hearing that Texan accent trying to be poetic in those early scenes just completely ruined it for me.


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