The New World
Poetry on screen. That's the best way to describe Malick's beautiful new film, "The New World." Visually stunning with a wonderful, almost ambient score to back it up, The New World showcases a very realistic vision of what life must have been like to early settlers in what eventually became known as America.
First off, a warning: it is long and slow. The average moviegoer will have a tough time sitting through this film without getting antsy. I heard several comments from fellow patrons as they left the theater; some of them early, about how long and boring it was and how they were scared they were going to "have to sit through another half hour of that crap." I felt sorry for those people and slightly annoyed because I enjoyed it so much.
The story begins with a telling of the first eastern ships to land in Virginia, where the men set up the first British colony: Jamestown. The natives, or naturals as they are called, are of course curious of the new comers and integration between the two cultures is a struggle to say the least. There is trepidation, then friendliness, then fighting, then a truce, then more fighting. With this as the backdrop, Captain John Smith (Farrell) begins a relationship with Pocohontas (Kilcher). The first hour or so of the film reminded me very much of an abbreviated version of "Dances with Wolves." Smith is captured by the naturals, but at the pleading of Pocohontas, his life is spared and he begins to learn the culture of the natives while at the same time, he teaches them some ways of the west. As the plot progresses, battles rage between the cultures while Pocohontas tries to bridge the gap between them, while slowly falling for Smith, much to the chagrin of her chief and the Brits. This is really what the story is mostly about: Pocohontas' relationship with Smith and her eventual integration into the European way. Unless you already know the tale, you can see for yourself what happens next.
As I said before, it is long and slow. The camera eloquently captures the natural beauty of the landscape and its many specimens of life and movement. It is fantastic to look at. There are several facial close-ups that some may argue linger longer than necessary. For example, while watching Pocohontas run/dance through a barley field in slow motion while Smith looks on as the sun beams down upon the area, there is narration by the main characters that apparently is being read from their original diary or journal. It's like I said, poetry on the screen.
Christian Bale doesn't make an appearance until the last 45 minutes or so of the film, and his performance of course is his standard; it's great. I've never been a huge Colin Farrell fan, but he also expresses emotion very well in this film without a lot of dialogue. The heart and soul of the film, though, is newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher. At age 15 (though she started filming at age 14), she is tremendous in her role as Pocohontas. A strikingly beautiful young woman, her non-verbal acting is something to behold; for example the way she reacts to a door (something she has never seen before). It was perfect. It will be interesting to see her in future films with more dialogue and "civilized" acting.
The tribe of natives are a character all their own, their casting director is surely a genius. Each one, even the extras, moved and spoke with such believability that I was stunned. I enjoyed seeing them on screen and without their precision, the film might not have been what it was.
Normally not something I mention, but I must point out the authenticity of everything...everything; the costumes first and foremost. Every single thread was interesting to look at; even the women's high heels of the time. Then you've got the tools, stockades, thrown-together houses and the teams of oxen. Everything was so perfectly brought together that you can almost believe you've been transported to the 1600's. We also get to see London as it might have been in the 17th century. The King's throne room and servants... all I can say is wow.
Technically eligible for Oscar nomination this year as it was officially released in 2005, I think it may miss the nomination for best picture. This saddens me as I think it deserves a nod; maybe even a win. I do have Kilcher being nominated for best supporting actress, but I'll have to change that as this was clearly a leading role and she deserves a nomination, but probably not a win for lack of dialogue (she slowly learns English throughout the course of the film, but even so, hardly ever speaks). One last warning, although I recommend this film to anyone who truly loves film as an art and/or is interesting in getting a non-Disney history lesson, it takes time for things to happen and when they do, they happen slowly and with little dialogue. The trailer makes it look like a battle-esque film, ala "Braveheart" or "The Last Samurai," but it is not. The battles are quick and largely devoid of blood. This is a visual film of love and of two new worlds: the one the Europeans discover and the one Pocohontas discovers. Exceptional.