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Published: 2005-12-28 - 00:10:00
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The New World Review

By Joe Lozito

Brave "New World"

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a huge Terrence Malick fan. I know I'm not making any new fans by saying that but I have to be honest here. There are some film aficionados who swear by the writer-director's less than prodigious output (four films in as many decades) but I'm not one of them. I've found Mr. Malick's work, from 1973's oft-copied "Badlands" to his pinnacle of ponderousness 1998's "The Thin Red Line", to be overly self-conscious and preachy.

But with "The New World", Mr. Malick's envisioning of the story of Pocahontas, it seems as though everything I've held against Mr. Malick's previous efforts falls into place. The director's love of voice-overs, for example, helps inform the largely wordless love story between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell, in his best role since…well…ever) and Pocahontas (remarkable newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher). Mr. Malick also finds a perfect output for his fascination with nature. Nature is always a character in Mr. Malick's films. Here, the forests of Virginia are a perfectly unspoiled paradise.

"New World" is more of a visual poem than any film in recent memory. It's almost impossible to imagine how this film, which Mr. Malick also wrote, started on the printed page. Mr. Malick is such an astute visual storyteller that the film seems at once languid and brisk. Mr. Malick shoots the film largely in wide and medium shots, nearly doing away with close-ups, because so much of the story is happening around the characters, in the forest and wilderness behind them. "New World" contains none of the preachiness that plagued his "The Thin Red Line". Instead, for a film that runs well into the two-plus hour range, "New World" contains precious little dialogue.

As far as the casting of Mr. Farrell goes, he no longer seems like the out of place modern actor, as Brad Pitt did in "Troy" or Mr. Farrell himself did in "Alexander". I don't remember when the Farrell hype started. Perhaps around 2000's "Tigerland", but certainly by "Minority Report". Regardless, at some point Mr. Farrell was promised as the new leading man. "New World" may not cement that status but it certainly proves the actor's charisma. Like Russell Crowe, Mr. Farrell's hyper-macho off-screen persona serves him well in the role of worldly-wise Capt. John Smith. The fact that his relationship with Pocahontas comes across as sweet and true is a real accomplishment.

Not enough can be said about the wonderful Ms. Kilcher. Only 14 years old when the film was shot, her Pocahontas is the true spine of the film. Over the course of "New World" she visibly ages from an innocent nature girl to a world-weary adult. Ms. Kilcher embodies the spirit of Mr. Malick's elegiac film, nature inevitably corrupted.

"New World" is both a history and a fantasy. It's an imagining of the meeting between English settlers and the "Naturals", as the Native Americans were called. Under Mr. Malick's sure-footed direction, it's also a meditation on love, truth and family. And most importantly, it's the Terrence Malick masterpiece I, for one, have been waiting for.

What did you think?

Movie title The New World
Release year 2005
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary At once a history and a fantasy, Terrence Malick's masterful rendition of the life of Pocahontas is a visual poem and the finest film of his career.
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