For the News-Democrat
What It's About
An artsy contemplative piece, "To the Wonder" tackles the big questions of love, relationships, faith and isolation.
American engineer Neil (Ben Affleck) falls in love with Ukrainian single mom Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in Paris, and he asks her to marry him and move to Oklahoma. The culture shock, of course, is daunting. She tries, but they drift apart. He's drawn to old flame Jane (Rachel McAdams), and she befriends another exile, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a parish priest who is having a crisis of faith.
At first, you might think the two lovers are mimes because they barely talk. They whisper. They twirl. They embrace. They smile. Then the melancholy seeps in, and there's trouble in paradise. Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams are a striking love triangle.
But the lack of genuine dialogue exchanges hurts -- we don't connect as in a typical romance.
We do, however, make the connection with Father Quintana, whose duress is palpable. Javier Bardem is a perfect choice to give this character moral quandaries, and he always delivers.
The film has a haunting, beautiful, poetic tone. The cinematography is exquisite. As a visual piece, it is striking.
What Doesn't Work
As a story, well, not so much -- definitely flimsy, with many gaps. The dialogue is so spare that it's nearly a silent movie, with some subtitles.
Writer-Director Terence Malick ("The Tree of Life") has a style unlike anyone else. You either adore his artistry or you wonder what all the fuss is about -- there's no middle ground. Malick has provided many "Huh?" moments in films, the few he's made in 40 years.
He raises questions without giving answers, not often in linear fashion, and that is frustrating to some viewers.
I can admire his vision, respect his genius, marvel at some incredible images, but overall, I lose patience with his slowly meandering films.
While a few parts are stunning, the sum here is definitely missing something.
Stars: 2 1/2 out of 4
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams
Rated: R for some sexuality/nudity