The New World

UK release date: 27 January 2006

cast list
Q’Orianka Kilcher
Colin Farrell
Christian Bale
Christopher Plummer
David Thewlis
Noah Taylor
Jonathan Pryce

directed by
Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, yet his 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 new film from Malick is considered to be rather an event and his latest tackles another historical conflict – that between British settlers and native Americans.

The year is 1607 and a group of British settlers have arrived at Virginia to claim the land. Included among them is the rebellious John Smith (Colin Farrell) who is saved from execution on the promise that he stays away from any more mutiny. Once there, the settlers encounter many Native Americans who are intrigued and concerned by their arrival. Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), a young Native girl, is captivated by the settlers and in particular, John Smith.

The New World is a film which many, many people will find hugely unappealing. Like The Thin Red Line, it doesn’t really work like a normal narrative film. There are a lot of silent moments where Malick is simply beguiling us with nature and his concerns for character and plot are not as apparent as in most movies. But if you are one of the people who allow The New World to work its magic on you then there are many pleasures to be had.

From the outset, the film is visually staggering. It has an amazing quality 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 decision certainly pays off. Malick is not just a director but an artist and he takes his time to create an atmospheric environment for the viewer. As well as the fantastic cinematography, the film also boasts a haunting score. When the two elements combine, there are moments of incredible emotion.

Newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher is wonderful in the integral role of the never-named Pocahontas. Her performance is so full of brilliant nuances and her emotions so raw that she delivers one of the most memorable breakout roles for years. It’s a shame that she isn’t matched by Colin Farrell’s patchy work. Still finding it hard to get rid of theIrish brogue, Farrell never really engages us enough.

Christian Bale is more successful 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 character makes 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 was never less than watchable. With Malick’s almost experimental way of making movies, the lack of character motivation is sometimes frustrating.

As inThe Thin Red Line, Malick also includes voiceovers. At some moments they seem unnecessary and pretentious. The romance between Smith and Pocahontas is expertly written in that it doesn’t rely on various outpourings of dialogue and instead focuses on smaller subtleties between the two.

But The New World, despite some narrative flaws, is so unlike any film you will see this year and will transport you in a way not many films can. With breathtaking cinematography and James Horner’s stirring score, it is 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.

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