"Brother. Keep us. Guide us. To the end of time."An all-American 1950s family is shaken by the loss of a child in director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. But it's too bad what could have been a beautifully crushing family drama was usurped by a massive amount of unnecessary special effects clouding the real story.
Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien, the proud parents of three precocious young boys Jack, R.L. and Steve (Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan). At a time when Cold War conflict was on the rise and Marilyn Monroe's star was shining bright as ever, Mr. O'Brien tries to teach his sons how to be a man--how to honor, fight and defend. He has a somewhat militant approach to his parenting, which could be seen as overly aggressive. Mrs. O'Brien is a loving, supportive wife who only wants her children to grow up strong, healthy, and--most of all--loved. But they don't all grow up that way.
So there's the basis of the family drama, which can also be seen as a young coming-of-age story. As it mounts into something that could really suck the audience in emotionally, Malick picks us up and throws us into this grandiose special effects tornado in efforts to create a spiritual realm for the story. This deeply mars the storytelling and interrupts our attention to the screen. Instantly we're taken on this extravagant ride that neither boosts nor progresses the story, but rather stalls it. The actors are simply moving along to the spectacularness of the effects (which often snatch the aspect of storytelling from the actors). Basically, Malick creates two different ways to tell the story, but only one of them works (slightly), all in the same movie. This is far too much going on.
And meanwhile, somewhere floating between the end of the world and the crash of the heavens (so to speak), Jack as an adult (Sean Penn) is stunted in the progress of his own life as he continues to think back on his tumultuous--though elegant--childhood.
Although anticipation for this movie ran rampant months before it was released, The Tree of Life turned out to be a flagrant pretentious effort from Malick. The often ridiculous effects did nothing to propel what could have been a very well made--and further developed--movie. Granted, the stunningly gorgeous snapshots from the movie would make an awesome movie montage poster. Malick deserves props for being creative and bringing out a scene-stealing performance from Chastain, but all else seemed to have disappointed miserably.