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To The Wonder - Review

To The Wonder

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

TERRENCE Malick’s second film in three years is perhaps his most disappointing.

A confused, introspective piece of work that goes nowhere very slowly, the film wastes a great central performance from Olga Kurylenko as well as leading men Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem.

The central thrust of the story revolves around a love story between a free spirited French woman named Marina (Kurylenko) and an American named Neil (Affleck).

We first encounter them in France before Marina and her daughter follow Neil back to Oklahoma. Once there, however, problems begin and Marina seeks comfort in the counsel of a priest (Bardem), who is himself in the midst of a crisis of faith, while Neil begins to see an old flame (Rachel McAdams).

As involving as all this sounds, the reality of watching Malick’s story unfold is much less interesting.

Admittedly, the film is beautifully shot (as we’ve come to expect from Malick) and poses some interesting questions about the nature of love and romance. But unlike previous films it lacks any clear focus and feels more pretentious.

Characters very rarely communicate with each other, appearing instead to be either enveloped in each other’s happiness (as visualised by endless scenes of Marina twirling through Oklahoma fields or around French hotspots or even in a supermarket) or torn apart by their growing frustration with or dislike for each other.

Some of their motivations and reasons aren’t explained, either verbally or otherwise, with back-stories that are apparently obvious from the film’s synopsis going ignored. The fact that Neil is a frustrated writer, for example, is never explained, and neither are his feelings of guilt for allowing Marina to go back to France and fall on hard times.

Perhaps because of this, and the overly internalized nature of the feelings at play, it becomes difficult to care especially given how little to work with Affleck, in particular, has. Indeed, he looks lost throughout.

Kurylenko is the film’s shining light and delivers a performance that is both achingly beautiful and, belatedly, tormented (possibly the result of a mental condition?).

But none of the people around her particularly like flesh and blood characters, more whims upon which Malick can float his arty ideas.

This is not dissimilar to the kind of thing he did with The Tree of Life (itself a polarising film) but this time things feels stretched too far. Or perhaps it’s that we’re feeling less indulgent.

Bardem’s presence, in particular, highlights the film’s failures given the way he is allowed to drift in and out without any clear arc. It’s a complete waste of a terrific actor whose own journey through the film is arguably more interesting than the central characters at times.

But then with big names including Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz and Martin Sheen reportedly left on the cutting room floor, you sense this is far from a complete vision (while still acknowledging that this is a regular Malick ploy).

The overall result is a film that bores, irritates and ultimately frustrates, offering no reward for the patience required in undertaking the journey. Malick has seldom felt so far removed from his audience, nor wasteful of the acting talent he has once again assembled.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 112mins
UK Release Date: February 22, 2013