"Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there," Sean Penn grumbled about his role in Terrence Malick's remarkable, ambitious and frequently baffling film.
You can see his point – he barely gets a look in as Jack, a middle-aged architect lamenting the death of his "true" and "kind" 19-year-old brother, 20 years before. The "action", such as it is, takes place in 1950s Texas, where young Jack (Hunter McCracken) and his two brothers cope with their dictatorial but loving father (Brad Pitt), a bitter, needy man who demands that his sons address him as "Sir". Pitt is excellent as the tormented tyrant trying hard to instil "strength" in his boys.
Much has been made of the "stargate" sequence, in which Douglas Trumbull's incredible special effects show us the beginnings of the cosmos, gurgling volcanoes and even a dinosaur or two. But The Tree of Life's strength lies in its depiction of childhood, its heavenly images and its use of sound. This could be viewed as humourless, spiritual claptrap. I found it profoundly moving.