Director discovers romantic, epic story in The New World

Reclusive director Terrence Malick continues his tradition of exploring uncharted filmmaking waters in his fourth film, The New World. Malick, who wrote and directed the film, examines the famous story of early settler John Smith and Native American Pocahontas. Malick’s narrative begins in 1607, with the disturbance of the calm waters around the Virginia coast by the sudden approach of three travel-weary British ships. The crews of the ships stare in awe from the decks at the newly discovered, beautifully filmed and lusciously vibrant Virginia landscape while a mutinous John Smith (Colin Farrell) reveres the discovery of the new world through the barred windows of the ship’s brig. Shortly after the men step ashore, Captain John Newport (Christopher Plummer) orders the immediate construction of crop fields, a fort and watch towers. Newport is no-nonsense about setting up provisions because he knows the fierce winter fast-approaching poses a deadlier threat to the crew than their Native American neighbors. Newport, suspecting disaster, conveniently gives Smith a chance to redeem himself by sending him to make peace with a local Native American chief for his assistance, while Newport escapes to England for more supplies.

Smith, with nothing to lose, sets off down river until he is captured by powerful Indian Chief Powhatan. Asthe weeks pass, Smith not only becomes close with the Indians, but with Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). The mercenary from England and the Native American girl form an unlikely and uniquely intimate bond.

Smith, reluctant to leave Pocahontas, must return to face the desperate reality of his fellow crewmates who are in dire need of his leadership. But only with the help of Pocahontas do the men survive the winter, depicted with brutal reality by Malick. Eventually, Pocahontas makes her way to the English fort and John Smith, but when Captain Newport returns with John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and news that King James has ordered Smith to captain another expedition, a melancholy love triangle with Pocahontas, Smith and Rolfe ensues. Malick’s historical romance continues with Pocahontas’ trip across the pond to London, and ultimately examines how this now-famous woman had such powerful effects on two men from a different world, who loved her.

Terrence Malick’s latest film is certainly unlike anything I have seen this year. He focused on a well-known story and invigorated his narrative through a vivid and sensory filmmaking approach that, while unique, left me with mixed feelings. The New World isn’t so much a movie as it is a historical stream-of-consciousness composed of emotion, sight and sound. The film contains very little dialogue, with most of the plot details revealed through stunningly beautiful and incredibly realistic cinematography of a 1607 new world and the voiced-over thoughts of Smith, Pocahontas and Rolfe.

While Malick’s directorial style is certainly unique, were it not for the excellent performances by Colin Farrell and Q’Orianka Kilcher, this dialogue-light film would have been nothing more than a visual exercise. Farrell, in his best performance, captures the conflicted state of John Smith; a man caught between not only his own romantic entanglements with Pocahontas, but the changing of the guard between old world Europe and new world America. 15-year-old Q’Orianka Kilcher creates a remarkable breakout performance as a young woman exhibiting wisdom beyond her years as her entire way of life is changed forever.

Despite the visual beauty and strong performances in Terrence Malick’s latest endeavor, the questionable narrative style didn’t seem to do the film justice, but fans of Malick and historical dramas might still find The New World worth discovering.

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