The New World is a tough film. It’s not a bad film per se, just a tough one. It’s not a poorly made film, just a difficult one to grasp and love. The first hour is very good but the last 80 minutes really taper off. The New World is full of contradictions which I’ll try to do justice to in equal measures.
The plot follows the story of Pocahontas, even though her name is never mentioned (an interesting choice). John Smith arrives to help set up the Jamestown colony and love is in the air. All things considered, there are far more interesting facets of this movie to discuss desides the plot specifics so we’ll leave it at that and move on.
On the negative side, the film has a brutal and punishing length, especially as it winds up. Thematically it’s all over the place; it never feels as fluid and crisp as The Thin Red Line. You’ll feel a bit like a hostage when the fourtieth version of innocent young Pocahontas swaying through the forest comes on. The New World also has a few rough edits, some logic problems and a jarring lack of dialogue. Throw in a dubious historical veracity and you’ve got the laundry list of negatives. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Terrence Malick’s work often feels and looks like a prayer in the best sense of the word. He has an innate sense of the moment and always creates a lush world around the story. Malick should be making nature films for a living, or perhaps something in the water because he loves the natural world. He creates an immersive moment. He’s not so thrilled when filming people but it’s hard to blame him there. Malick trades on tension and always plays his cards close to the vest; he sets up the audience’s wonder and lets us feel like we are next to the characters in the story. Newcomer, Q’Orianka Kilcher, is very, very good as the Native American princess and deserves some serious Oscar love. Colin Farrell also feels authentic while Christian Bale is woefully underused but you can’t win them all.
The constants in the Terrence Malick experience are all around too. He still loves voiceovers far more than his characters saying anything on the screen. He still loves innocent moments of mirth far more than plot development. He still does wonders with trees and underwater shots. He still loves silence. If you loved Thin Red Line you’ll like parts of this. If you found that film tiresome you’ll be looking for the exit after the first hour here.
I come down somewhere in the middle on my main man Malick. I’m actually shocked he keeps getting financing because I don’t see how one of his films will ever be a commercial success. They are too dense, too complicated, and without enough explosions. All in all Mr. Malick is too thoughtful for this time and place. That doesn’t make him better or worse than the titans of the industry, just different. In this case different isn’t great but it might be next time. Let’s just hope they keep giving Malick cash for his pet projects. Otherwise it’s off to National Geographic for him, a place where they appreciate peace and quiet.