The Tree of Life is unsurprisingly divisive, given it’s an experimental film by Terrence Malick, which basically guaranteed that lots of critics were going to love it and think it profound, and many others were going to find it overly pretentious and slow. Which is what happened when it debuted at Cannes, receiving both cheers and jeers and initially receiving mixed reviews, although later ones skewed more positive. The Tree of Life is a challenging movie, and one that more general film audiences are less likely to love, but one that was also given plenty of praise, including winning the Palme d’Or.
This December, Terrence Malick is returning to epic narrative filmmaking in a major way with “A Hidden Life.” The historical drama debuted at Cannes to rave reviews, with many hailing the film as Malick’s greatest achievement since his Palme d’Or winner and magnum opus “The Tree of Life.” The latter went on to earn Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. Fox Searchlight was behind the release of “The Tree of Life,” and now the indie powerhouse is back with Malick for “A Hidden Life.”
Whether he’s playing an outsider or not, Pitt’s often at his best when he’s being observed from the outside by a more central character. In A River Runs Through It (1992), he’s the radiant, reckless younger brother who burns too bright for this world in the memories of his older sibling, played by Craig Sheffer. He’s a father in The Tree of Life (2011), looming in the life of the main character, Jack, as a figure revered and feared as he tries to shape his son into what he believes a man should be. In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), he’s a train robber as celebrity, radiantly and deliberately distant, refracted through the obsessive adoration of his eventual killer (Casey Affleck).
The 20 Best Movie Scores of the Decade
From Jonny Greenwood’s “Phantom Thread” score to Jonny Greenwood’s “You Were Never Really Here” score, here’s the best movie music of the 2010s.
By David Ehrlich, Kate Erbland, Chris O’Falt, Michael Nordine
Jul 26, 2019 11:00 am
18. “The Tree of Life” (Alexandre Desplat)
It isn’t easy to score a Terrence Malick film. For one thing, you never know how much of your music will actually make it into the final cut, or when that cut might see the light of day. For another, your contributions will likely have to compete with several of the greatest orchestral compositions ever written, as Alexandre Desplat discovered when the brunt of the symphonic pieces he contributed to “The Tree of Life” were thrown aside in favor of timeless masterworks from the likes of Gustav Mahler, Hector Berlioz, and Johannes Brahms. It’s hard to compete with Brahms!
But Desplat, who tends to excel in a classical vein, delivered one of his best scores anyway. Malick may be ruthless, but he also has a way of finding the perfect images to make someone’s music feel transcendent (just ask Ennio Morricone). Desplat’s subtle, insistent arrangements lend a delicate forcefulness to Malick’s vision of the past, and layer a hushed awe over his glimpse of the future. The score is used sparingly, but it sometimes literally strings the movie together as Malick connects the dots between the Big Bang and Sean Penn. It’s a thing of quiet wonder, and a powerful reminder that Malick eventually gets the best out of his collaborators. —DE
But especially since the 2011 release of his magnum opus The Tree of Life, which was acclaimed by Roger Ebert as one of the ten greatest films ever made, Malick has unapologetically explored the mysteries of creation and death, sin and grace, and suffering and resurrection.