Ruffalo optioned the rights to Nathaniel Rich’s original article and has an executive producer credit on the film; clearly, he has a stake in the material. The actor is excellent as reluctant hero Bilott, muting his natural charisma to create a character who is both taciturn and generous, determined but socially ill at ease.
This Kelly is motivated by an oedipal complex and wears dresses to distract his opponents; The Babadook’s Essie Davis is equal parts fearsome and magnetic as his enterprising sex worker mother. More enjoyable still are the film’s corrupt policemen; the louche, stockinged, pipe-smoking Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult) and virile cartoon villain Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam).
Malick links the lonely labour of working the land with the thanklessness of sainthood, asking questions about devotion, tradition and individual acts of resistance. Mileage (and the film is three hours) will likely depend on your tolerance for the director’s signature poetic style.
The camera’s canted angles and shaky closeups convulse with feeling that the actors can’t seem to summon. Ensemble dance sequences convey neither emotion nor information (except that the felines each have 10 fully articulated human toes). The film is rated U, but many of its uncanny images are sure to haunt viewers for generations.