Film Review: TREE OF LIFE

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken

I saw this several weeks ago and frankly have found it difficult to write about. At its center, there is a fairly traditional story of a somewhat abusive yet loving father, raising his children in mid-20th century small town America. Three boys are mystified by their father, loved by their slightly askew mother. They do the things boys did in those pre-digital times. Their childhood is both frightening and lovely.
But the center does not hold. Swirling around it are Malick’s cosmetological and mystical ideas about creation, life, death. Rather than shedding light, they obscured it for me. Additionally, Sean Penn plays the oldest son in adulthood and seems to do little more than wander about the skyscrapers in a city. This is not the fault of his acting but rather a hole in the screenplay.
And then there is Malick’s idea about forgiveness, redemption, an afterlife.
If you can suspend your cynicism and give in to the movie, you might find yourself swept away. I have certainly never seen a better performance from Brad Pitt. And the cinematography rivals DAYS OF HEAVEN. I was not quite able to let go. I wish I had.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.