The New World (2005) – Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick brings his arthouse visual style to the tale of Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) and Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) in the next title on the What Else to Watch list in DK Canada’s The Movie Book, following its recommendation of Aguirre, The Wrath of God.

Joining Kilcher and Farrell in the tale of the exploration of the Virginias and the effect it has on those already living there, are Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, and David Thewlis.

Set to a score by James Horner (though not all of his score got into the film because of the way Malick edits, and cuts his stories), the film is set in 1607 as the English continue their exploration and settlement of America. Smith arrives under a cloud of mutiny, but is given a second chance by Newport (Plummer).  As they establish a fort, and begin to make headway with the Native Americans. Smith and the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas, begin an affair, which soon sees them as traitors to both sides.

The English and the Native Americans come to conflict pretty quickly through a lack of understanding, and differences in cultures.

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It’s a sumptuous looking film, gorgeous visuals, and imagery, but as a general rule, I’ve never cared for Malick as a storyteller. The story is slow in its telling, and more experiential for the most part than narrative.

For Malick’s films I find it’s all about the physical performance, as most of the dialogue is voice-over as the main characters ruminate about like, love and one another. It’s about finding the character moments in the performance that brings the film to life, and lends it a dreamlike reality.

The contrast between the Native Americans who live with the land, and the English who seek to conquer it is evident in their habitats. The village is beautiful, natural, the fort, by contrast, is flawed, broken, and grey. They do not seem at home there, while the Native Americans feel like part of the land.

It’s a fairly gentle film, but I also don’t find it very engaging. You have to be truly interested in the story to settle in for this one, and I wasn’t. There was no hook for me, no matter how beautiful the film looked.

The Movie Book, from DK Books continues to entertain and educate my love of cinema, so even if I don’t enjoy a film, I still get something out of the experience. And that is what happened in this one.

It’s a solid cast, beautifully shot, but not much in the way of a story.

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