Terrence Malick is one of the most repected directors in Hollywood, yethis output is slow to say the least. Since 1969 he has made only five films.His last was the beautiful 1998 WWII drama The Thin Red Line. Any newfilm from Malick is considered to be rather an event and his latest tacklesanother historical conflict – that between British settlers and nativeAmericans.
The year is 1607 and a group of British settlers have arrived at Virginia toclaim the land. Included among them is the rebellious John Smith (ColinFarrell) who is saved from execution on the promise that he stays away fromany more mutiny. Once there, the settlers encounter many Native Americanswho are intrigued and concerned by their arrival. Pocahontas (Q’OriankaKilcher), a young Native girl, is captivated by the settlers and inparticular, John Smith.
The New World is a film which many, many people will find hugelyunappealing. Like The Thin Red Line, it doesn’t really work like anormal narrative film. There are a lot of silent moments where Malick issimply beguiling us with nature and his concerns for character and plot arenot as apparent as in most movies. But if you are one of the people who allowThe New World to work its magic on you then there are many pleasures to behad.
From the outset, the film is visually staggering. It has an amazingquality of not just showing an untouched world but opening it up.Much of the film was shot on 65mm, a rarity for modern films, and this decisioncertainly pays off. Malick is not just a director but an artist and he takeshis time to create an atmospheric environment for the viewer. As well as thefantastic cinematography, the film also boasts a haunting score. When thetwo elements combine, there are moments of incredible emotion.
Newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher is wonderful in the integral roleof the never-named Pocahontas. Her performance is so full of brilliantnuances and her emotions so raw that she delivers one of the mostmemorable breakout roles for years. It’s a shame that she isn’t matched byColin Farrell’s patchy work. Still finding it hard to get rid of theIrish brogue, Farrell never really engages us enough.
Christian Bale is moresuccessful and his role as Pocahontas’s gateway to England is confounding.In a more traditional film, this would have been the role of a villain, but here Bale’s charactermakes Pocahontas’ choices all the more difficult.
The film is not perfect. The first hour was, for me, utterly captivating.But my interest did wander slightly in the middle, although the film wasnever less than watchable. With Malick’s almost experimental way of makingmovies, the lack of character motivation is sometimes frustrating.
As inThe Thin Red Line, Malick also includes voiceovers. At some momentsthey seem unnecessary andpretentious. The romance between Smith and Pocahontas is expertly written inthat it doesn’t rely on various outpourings of dialogue and instead focuseson smaller subtleties between the two.
But The New World, despite some narrative flaws, is so unlike any film youwill see this year and will transport you in a way not many films can. Withbreathtaking cinematography and James Horner’s stirring score, itis a feast for the senses. With Kilcher’s superb debut the film’s heart is in safe hands. Not an easy watch for all, but The New World is well worth taking the time to discover.