The New World


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The New World
The New World
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Three small ships cross the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and land on what will become the Jamestown colony. It is 1607 and the band of 103 adventurous men – including shackled-for-insubordination John Smith (Colin Farrell) – arrive on the Virginia coast. They don’t know it, yet, but they are at the center of a powerful Indian nation, led by sage chief Powhatan (August Schellenberg). But, enough of that. What we’re really here for is the love story between Smith and the beautiful Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) in Terrence Malick’s “The New World.”

Robin:
Robin's review coming soon!

Laura:
The Captain of the Susan Constant, Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer, "Syriana"), spares insubordinate John Smith (Colin Farrell, "Alexander") from his hanging sentence because he knows he'll need every one of his hundred men to establish a settlement for the Virginia Company.  When this proves more grueling than they had anticipated, with 'the naturals' of the land acting wary, Newport returns to England for supplies and assigns Smith to visit their king, Powhatan (August Schellenberg, the "Free Willy" series), in his 'great city.'  There Powhatan's favorite child, Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"), will save Smith from death a second time in "The New World."

Of course in writer/director Terrence Malick's ("The Thin Red Line") world, where visual poetry outweighs story and dialogue, you may be hard pressed to learn the names of many of these characters.  Malick has reimagined the popular American legend as an epic love story set across oceans and civilizations, a clash of nature versus industry in three parts.

In the first part, Malick wears his Herzog hat, with visuals evoking the German director's 16th century South American set "Aguirre" paired with the haunting yet majestic music of "Nosferatu." Smith falls under the young Algonquian's spell (Kilcher is fifteen, Pocahontas was reportedly ten to twelve when Smith met her) and the two merge with the splendid, natural landscape and each other.  Pocahontas (which means 'playful one') helps the Englishmen survive as well, bringing provisions to their camp, but when it becomes clear the strangers intend to stay, her people attempt to drive them out, attacking Smith's meager fort.

The midsection plays like a Malick rework of "The Story of Adele H," Truffaut's tale of a poet's daughter gone mad by unrequited love for a soldier.  Smith, concerned that his passion for Pocahontas will bring her harm from her own people, accepts a commission for Northern exploration and leaves instructions that she be told he is dead after two months. The girl, rechristened Rachel and dressed in Puritan garb, haunts the fort like a pale shadow of herself, until she is slowly brought back to life by the patient interest of tobacco farmer John Rolfe (Christian Bale, "Batman Begins"), who marries her.

The final act sees a life settled for and assimilated into that becomes more precious after a challenge from the past.  Rachel and Rolfe have a child and travel back to England, where she is known by the court and presented to James I.  There, she is stunned to discover Smith is alive.

Malick is well known for his glacial pacing and at two hours and thirty minutes*, "The New World" will tax many.  However, there is no denying the film's great beauty, from the exoticness of the ideally cast Q'Orianka Kilcher to the lush landscapes, all rapturously filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki  ("A Walk in the Clouds," "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events") using mostly natural light. Malick's take on the Pocahontas story is thought provoking, too, if not always smoothly executed.  The film's three sections are unequal and do not flow smoothly into one another.  The use of fade-to-blacks serve no purpose other than padding the run time and become annoying.  Yet the young girl's tale is brought to a new and vibrant life.

Colin Farrell is almost as objectified as Kilcher, a poster boy for dreamy teens in eye-liner and leather, and unfortunately his performance doesn't rise above this level.  Farrell broods, crashes about in the woods, and broods some more.  The actor's history shows greater proclivity to street thugs and bad guys than romantic heroes.  Kilcher is lovely as the creature from a people who Smith says have no words for forgiveness, jealousy or sense of possession (although Malick has her ask for forgiveness from her father in her native tongue). She is sensuality itself, communing with Smith by literally passing him the breath from her body. Bale's Rolfe is steadfast, a good Christian who becomes enchanted with the girl spiritually and intellectually.  Although the supporting cast includes the likes of Plummer, David Thewlis, Ben Chaplin, Jonathan Pryce, Roger Rees and Noah Taylor, as in Malick's "Thin Red Line," these many known actors appear so briefly as to hardly register.  Irene Bedard and Wes Studi, both recently of TNT's "Into the West," also appear as Native American Indians.

Production designer and Malick vet John Fisk found untouched Virginia locations to film in, avoiding the more obvious and easier path of heading to Canada, and the genuineness is palpable on screen.  And if costume designer Jacqueline West ("The Banger Sisters") outfits Kilcher in sexy slit and fringed buckskins, her later appearance seems culled from paintings of the time, particularly her appearance at the court of James I.  The film's final English-set scene, photographed with swirling camerawork in manicured, maze-like British gardens, is moving, blissful, a celebration of a short-lived but influential spirit.

Malick's film is just as likely to be viewed as an ode to a fifteen year-old girl as a movie whose title bears multiple meanings.  "The New World" may often be indulgent but it is undeniably the work of an auteur who has created one of his own.

B

*Note that the version of the "The New World" that is reviewed above is the 150 minute version which was previewed and opened in New York City before the newly cut version opening on 1/20/2006.
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