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Film Review: To the Wonder

Photo 1Written & Directed by Terrence Malick
Director of Photography by Emmanuel Lubezi
Edited by A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan, Mark Yoshikawa
Music Supervision by Hannan Townsend
Production Design by Jack Fish
Costumes by Jacqueline West
Produced by Sarah Green , Nicolas Gonda
Distribution by Magnolia Pictures
Running time: 1 Hour, 53 Min.
Principle Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Romina Mondello

Tweetable Review: To the Wonder – Same Look, Same Great Taste, Same Confusion =  Magnificent. Repeat

For his newest creation Terrance Malick’s To the Wonder displays a visually brilliant Bartlesville, Oklahoma along with a grim and rainy metropolitan France, tied into visual storytelling closer to that of a perfume ad or art instillation that many will call a deceptive veer from form, but in all actuality, has a sequential narrative structure – certainly more straightforward than that of Tree of Life.

Photo 2To the Wonder tells the story of Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck), who meet in France and move to Oklahoma to start a life together, where problems soon arise. While Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, Neil renews a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Jane (McAdams). Bold and lyrical, To the Wonder is a moving, gorgeously shot exploration of love in its many forms.

Yes, its going to be argued that there isn’t a whole of substance going on in Wonder but if audiences give it a chance, the emotional content and lack of dialogue give a wonderfully meaningful subtly that will pay off in the long run. Its true that even for the most hardcore cinephiles out there, Wonder might push against today’s anxiety-riddled patience-of-the-immediately-consumed but, if given a chance, To the Wonder will enlighten even the most cynical. The ebbs and flows of visual storytelling which Mallick has presented here are some of the best captured material (even if it is re-hashed from Tree of Life – literally) you will see in 2013 and combined with a classical soundscape and underscoring – audiences will walk out feeling like they have experienced something that does match the film’s title exactly; in a non-cynical way.

Photo 3As a whole, Mallick has crafted yet another bewildered, experimental achievement that, while not everything makes sense and gives answers to, audiences should still find fulfilling once the credits roll. Ben Affleck gives a solid performance that has a broad spectrum of emotional response and screen presence that works efficiently given that his character probably has no more than 10 or 15 lines of spoken dialogue for the entire film. Counterpart Olga Kurylenko displays wonderful range and deep emotional connection to the material at hand – def. a huge turn from her role in the other wide-screen release of this month’s Oblivion, and easily outshines that of Rachel McAdams, who is ample in her role but proves she knows where the camera is at all times and can’t seem to break free. Finally for FRF’s favorite Actor in the bunch, Javier Bardem gives a usually solid and textured performance that raises the stakes of his particular aspect of the Wonder story, but due to the actual nature of the side-plot, the whole structure gets lost in the overall mix.

Photo 4Ultimately the question(s) to ask isn’t if To the Wonder is good but if the film is simply a Tree of Life follow-up or companion? Malick’s track record hasn’t shown to usually go with the same material back-to-back but with this current outing, one may ask if the director was trying to complete what he didn’t in 2012’s precursor given these two films are very close in terms of depth. Furthermore will he keep in this vein? Much like Wes Anderson finding his groove in the microcosm of “miniatures”, Anderson peers into the lives of his characters like that of a terrarium. So to, Malick never seems to  tire of capturing POV and the inner emotional life of at least one character in his films walking through a breezy field of wheat or grass, and having said character run their hands through said grass or wheat. Will sunsets, sky fall, oceans and countrysides look or be toned the same if captured by anyone other than Emmanuel Lubezki? Well dear readers – ultimately it doesn’t matter as long as Malick continues to give this kind of work. Sure it will might be confusing, unanswered, unconventional and similar to last year’s Tree of Life, but To the Wonder is still certainly beautiful, mesmerizing and thought-provoking.

If you want a film that is laid out before you and run of the mill – go for Oblivion but if you want something with meaning, power and gorgeous cinema – see To the Wonder.

While we here at FRF certainly never want to turn people away from VOD – we do strongly encourage people to check Wonder out on the big screen as you won’t get another experience to see this film’s splendor any other way.

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films 

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