This is the movie with the 17-min. history-of-the-cosmos section that drove ordinary customers out of the theaters to demand their money back. So timid have films become in the past few decades that any deviation from the norm, even a spectacular planetarium show, requires lodging a formal protest. The outraged citizens should have hung around for the rest of writer-director Terrence Malick's movie: a pristinely observed portrait of a midcentury Texas family, with stern Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt in a boldly acute performance) lording it over Mom (Jessica Chastain) and their three young sons. Just Malick's fifth film in nearly 40 years, The Tree of Life has the elliptical intensity of his '70s masterworks Badlands and Days of Heaven. Family affection or animosity is revealed in a glance, a tilt of the restless camera, a cut from a parental argument in the house to the apprehensive kids outside. You can see the dinner-table tension in each of the boys' faces, dreading an explosion. The movie says, or rather shows, that to a man looking back on his youth, a father's harsh word can have the seismic effect of a crack in the cosmos.
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