What’s the lowdown on Terrence Malick’s Ben Affleck movie?


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Terrence Malick was back in the news Tuesday when he announced two new films –- a mysterious project starring Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett titled “Knight of Cups” and an equally enigmatic one starring Bale, Blanchett and Ryan Gosling called “Lawless.

Both will shoot in 2012, and both will be seeking financing via foreign-territory sales at the upcoming American Film Market (hence the timing of the announcement). Of course, just because they shoot in 2012 doesn’t mean we’ll see them anytime before 2015.


But there’s a movie that will be ready before either of those, an untitled film (formerly called “The Burial”) starring Ben Affleck (who actually replaced Bale) that Malick shot right after he finished editing “The Tree of Life.” He’s tweaking the movie in the editing room now, and it’s expected to be finished by next year (though that doesn’t mean a distributor that buys it will bring out then).

The company selling rights to the movie, FilmNation, has been secretive, to say the least, about the details (think executives reading the script in locked offices, and the “Men in Black” amnesia-laser administered afterward). Malick’s been protective, too. Several U.S. distributors made offers just on the basis of the script and some footage, said a person familiar with negotiations. So far, he’s declined to sell it.

So what’s the movie really about?

There have been scattered reports about it, but according to a person who read the script, it’s a love triangle with an international subtext. It’s also the only film Malick has ever done that’s set in the same time as the period in which he’s making it.

Here’s the breakdown, with the caveat that things could change drastically from script to screen (on “Tree,” Malick would sometimes rewrite scenes on the day of the shoot).

Basically, it concerns a philanderer (Affleck) who, feeling at loose ends, travels to Paris, where he enters a hot-and-heavy affair with a European woman (Olga Kurylenko). Said Lothario returns home to Oklahoma, where he marries the European woman (in part for visa reasons). When the relationship founders, he rekindles a romance with a hometown girl (Rachel McAdams) with whom he’s had a long history.

According to the person who read the script, there’s a bit of a happier ending than some other Malick movies (or at least a less ambiguous one than at the end of “Tree”). And a person who saw the footage said there’s also the trademark visual showiness--shots of Affleck and McAdams in Malick’s trademark man-in-nature style--as well as intriguing supporting actors: Javier Bardem, for instance, plays a priest whom Affleck’s Lothario visits for advice.


The more accessible dramatic premise makes one think Malick could be heading to a commercial place, at least by Malick standards. Also helping the film’s prospects is the overall visibility of the director’s work: After bringing out just four Malick movies in 35 years, he now can churn out three films in just a couple of years. We still wouldn’t count on any interviews, though.


What’s next for Terrence Malick after ‘The Tree of Life’?

Image from Terrence Malick hints at his ‘Blue Valentine’ moment

--Steven Zeitchik