Christopher Mansell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Review based on the 139 minute theatrical cut.
Oh, Terrence. If ever a film was precision engineered to win the Palme d'Or then lose the Academy Award to a more accessible populist choice, it's the Tree of Life. Captured largely in intense subjectivity, the handheld camera swirls around Malick's actors and locations to capture moments of truth building something that, enhanced with the by-now iconic whispered voiceover, builds an impressionistic tableau approximating life through the haze of long ago memory or a half-remembered dream.
Granted, I have only seen Badlands and Days of Heaven, then skipped some to end up here, but it's good to know Malick's trajectory of being utterly disinterested in traditional narrative didn't alter course over the 33 years between. It feels uncompromising. An auteur-led vision unfettered by the ideas of traditional narrative or even traditional cinema. I've seen it described elsewhere as having a Cinéma Vérité feel to it, with Malick's directorial presence evident in every single shot and decision.
Personally, I get great pleasure imagining Terry dancing around the set and locations, jumping with glee every time he finds another tree with old gnarled branches that he and Emmanuel Lubezki can capture the golden hour sunshine filtering through.
I also imagine, having debuted at Cannes, that the film was initially met with a mix of the usual boos and a standing ovation. I like to think that Malick was happy to have just produced any kind of emotional reaction that's not utter indifference. I personally loved it, as should be evident, and I hope I'll dive into the extended cut in the not too distant future.