At one point in Terrence Malick’s heady huffing of the sour stink of success, his protagonist (a skull-faced Christian Bale) muses, “So much love inside us that never gets out.” So many words, too — like nearly every line of any importance here, the observation remains unspoken. It’s probably for the best: as dialogue, all this stuff about being a stranger in a strange land and a knight who has forgotten his quest would be portentous bordering on silly, especially when spoken by Bale’s rich and rutting screenwriter. (Admittedly, a good portion of this audible thought belongs to the string of women who try to love our man — including a wife, a stripper, an actress, a model, and another man’s wife — but mostly, the same holds true.) As it is, they seem about right as quietly desperate sputterings surrounding the soul of a man who has gotten what he thought he wanted, only to fall into the sort of pleasurable stupor that requires a good shaking to escape. The inwardness also has the happy effect of making the film’s physical settings — obscene palazzos, gray temples of commerce, Vegas casinos, desert wastes, neon clubs, and various and sundry bodies of water — serve as interior landscapes. There, we glimpse the source of the damage — familial tragedy — but the mystery isn’t sorting out what happened, it’s what happens next. (2015) — Matthew Lickona
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