Some directors can attract A-listers thanks to their previous collaborations, their industry reputation or by the way in which they make films. The acclaimed yet divisive Terrence Malick falls into this category and has pulled together Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman to make up possibly the most star-studded cast in recent memory. His latest feature is romantic drama Song to Song, which unfolds against the backdrop of the music scene in Austin, Texas. At the centre of it all is Faye (Mara), a rising musician who embarks on a relationship with fellow performer BV (Gosling) but who is also seeing his manipulative producer Cook (Fassbender); hence a complicated love triangle ensues.
Malick’s experimental, free-flowing style is evident from the offset and his fingerprints are on every frame as the restless camera stalks, swoops and swirls around the flawed characters and their fleeting connections with one another. Representative of the anarchic environment the story takes place in, sequences can at times be wild with fun and frolics at festivals, and then the tone can shift to become more wistful and thoughtful as musicians reflect and contemplate their life decisions with a typically Malick-esque pensiveness.
With an ever-changing script and a lot of improvisational dialogue, the actors appear to enjoy being pawns in the director’s wicked game, revelling in the haphazard approach to constructing a narrative. Gosling tickles the ivories once more in a role that he is well suited to, given the fact that he plays in a band when not making movies. His scenes with Mara, who amusingly has different coloured hair in nearly every scene, are great, though they occasionally tread a fine line between sentimental and mushy. Fassbender is probably best of the bunch as the baddie of sorts, enjoying pulling the strings in his dastardly position of power. I think he’s often more effective in his villainous performances and this is no different.
In an early sequence, Faye muses in a voiceover that “any experience is better than no experience. I want to live, song to song”, and while it is very much an acquired taste that some might lazily label as style over substance, Malick’s latest is certainly an experience! Song to Song is a beautifully captured cinematic setlist, a thematic visual concept album if you will, and though the material can be challenging, it is like little else you will see on the big screen all year.