Saw it last night. It seemed to have the least amount of build up imaginable considering. Spoilers, I guess, as much as a latter day Malick film can have spoilers, follow.
It seems like a companion to Tree Of Life in style, but in turning its focus so resolutely on one small scale story it threatens to be overwhelmingly just florid style without the huge fundamental questions that Tree tackled. Or, rather, they're still in there, just buried under a LOT of seemingly identical shots of Olga Kurylenko twirling. I certainly don't mean that I wanted it to settle down and tell me a story, as that's obviously not the film he intended to make, but for probably the first time in his career I was willing Malick to alter the mood a little. A lot of the issue rests with the fact that Affleck isn't one of those rare actors who can make a monument of their own expression. Kurylenko fares a lot better, always seems to have something bubbling under the surface, but I don't know whether you can rest a film of this type on a lead actor who can't express particularly emphatically, especially when his character itself is inert and fundamentally restricted emotionally. Colin Farrell managed to make his wordless courtship with Q'orianka Kilcher seem vital and alive, but here, Affleck and Kurylenko don't really seem to particularly like each other. Which, while it makes sense for the 'plot', undermines the constantly swooning mood.
Having said that, there are, as ever, some truly wonderful crescendos where it all pulls together to create the kind of moments that nobody else in cinema can conjure. When the mood does finally darken, the whole film feels much more gripping and real. While I'm enthused by his approach to film these days, his foray into impressionistic, freewheeling emotive statements without the constraints of standard plots, this one might end up standing as a learning experience. Where Tree Of Life was painfully, obviously autobiographical, and dealt with such huge questions through a personal filter, and The New World was guided by an emotive historical and narrative framework throughout, this one suffers from a lack of a proper emotional centre from which to spin out its expected visual and audio fireworks. And without that, considering how ripe for ridicule the open, unguarded and totally irony free films he is now making are, it didn't quite hit home the way it could. It's still capable of truly special moments but strays uncomfortably close to the parodic version of his work that his detractors have assembled of late.