Due respect to the Fox Searchlight team and their just-announced decision to pay $12 million for Terrence Malick‘s A Hidden Life, but the universal reaction among Cannes-attending journos (or at least the ones I spoke to yesterday) is that Malick’s pastoral, moralistic period drama is looking at an uphill struggle to land a Best Picture nomination, which is presumably Fox Searchlight’s strategy.
Variety‘s Elsa Keslassy and Brent Lang reported yesterday that “the reviews have been strong,” but they’ve actually been mixed. What they seem to have meant is “Justin Chang and David Ehrlich adore it.”
Keslassy-Lang: “Malick movies have been box office duds in recent years. He hasn’t had a film that cracked $1 million at the domestic box office since 2011’s The Tree of Life, which Searchlight also released and pushed to a $13.3 million haul.
“Malick tone poems such as Knight of Cups ($566,006), Song to Song ($443,684), and To the Wonder ($587,615) collapsed on the shoals of audience indifference.”
HE suspicion: A Hidden Life will be rotely, quietly, respectfully received by industry viewers, and that’s about all.
It may be Best Picture-nominated because of its affecting antiwar theme, but I personally feel it’s simply the Austrian World War II conscientious objector guillotine-plus-mountain vistas version of The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life, To The Wonder, Knight of Cups and Song to Song. It’s a variation on the same movie Malick has been making for the last 20 years. I had been led to believe (in part from a 2017 Malick quote) that A Hidden Life would be more narratively muscular and script-driven and less interior-dreamscapey than his last few films, but no.
From The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “The style that Malick has found for this subject is very much the same as ever: an overpowering sense of being ecstatically, epiphanically in the present moment, an ambient feeling of exaltation created by a montage of camera shots swooning, swooping and looming around the characters who appear often to be lost in thought, to an orchestral or organ accompaniment, and a murmured voiceover narration of the characters’ intimate but distinctly abstract feelings and memories.”
In short, another one of Malick’s “signature symphonies.”