What does it all mean? A question you may well have asked yourself upon leaving the cinema after watching Terrence Malick’s two preceding endeavours The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. What then transpires are several hours where you attempt to find an answer, to interpret this filmmaker’s unique, abstract approach to storytelling, as he tests his audience’s imagination in a provocative manner. However with his latest venture, The Knight of Cups, when posed with that very same question it takes far less time to come up with an answer. Which, regrettably, is “nothing at all.”

Christian Bale plays the lead, Rick – a screenwriter in LA, who enters into several affairs with beautiful women, as he hopes to try and get over his failed marriage to Nancy (Cate Blanchett). Plagued by the tainted memories of his father (Brian Dennehy) and hot-headed brother Barry (Wes Bentley), he moves from girlfriend, to girlfriend – never able to settle down and feel content in his surroundings.

For somebody so innovative, Malick is frustratingly abiding by his own, somewhat pretentious style. His approach may be creative, but by extending it across three continuous pictures it’s no longer unique – as again we have an intimate, character study, with various roaming shots (often from below) of his protagonists, complete with a mawkish narration played over the top. You would hope Malick of all people would have moved on from that, and in spite of the profundity of The Tree of Life (and critical acclaim), want to push himself further, and try something completely different.

Alas, he has presented a piece that is mythic and hypnotic, and in his defence, you do find yourself mesmerised on occasion. Such is Malick’s hypnagogic approach, it does feel like a dream – but not one you ever truly feel immersed in. The oblique narrative and distinct lack of context is to the film’s detriment – and while you can admire the filmmaker for his unconventional means of expressing himself, without any sense of linearity or character development, it becomes impossible to invest in this picture. It’s so cold and unemotional, and you feel absolutely nothing for Rick and his respective journey. While there is an argument that it should be like that, given he’s been portrayed as something of an empty vessel, it still makes for a film that is mightily difficult to engage with.

On a more positive note, Malick does capture the essence of his setting, as his voyeuristic perspective on both LA and Vegas gives the viewer a real sense for the location and the atmosphere that exists. But what good is a setting when there’s so little for the actors to do in front of it – as yet again Malick has assembled a remarkable cast – also featuring the likes of Natalie Portman, Ben Kingsley and Imogen Poots – and given them so little to work with, with few scenes (nor dialogue) that will test them in any way.

With each act of this film divided into titled chapters, there’s something rather ironic that the final scenes come under the heading ‘freedom’ – which just happens to be exactly what you end up wishing for during this challenging cinematic experience.