The New World (2005) Directed by Terence Malick

I was so in the mood for an adventure and for romance. I was so loving the idea of indians and the promise of the new land, the unknown... the frolic in the hay...I was looking for that fairytale feeling but instead I felt mostly uncomfortable, flat and worried for the film. Tree of Life was a grand and a surprisingly inspiring film so I expected much of The New World. Unfortunately, the movie lived up to my expectations only in some short moments of beauty.

Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys? What about Clarice Lispector's fiction?

That's the kind of description that Malick sometimes touches upon – without words, with images and light. Full of wonder. (I thought about wonder today as I was dusting the DVD shelf and realized that while approaching life with wonder is one of my ideals, I'm usually incapable of living so.)

While the visuals of nature and the indigenous people of America are great in The New World, the acting choices for the main male parts in the film are disappointing. Is Malick as the director blind to the weakness of Colin Farrell and the blandness of Christian Bale? They are out-shined by the new find – Q'orianka Kilcher, whose expressions and movements are better acting than anything the two Hollywood superstars in their knight-in-shining-armor clamor can muster. This casting thing is a problem then in the credibility of the love story. Why does the princess fall for Captain Smith?
I'm glad in the end she realized he wasn't all that. It was just the teenage lust hormones waking up I guess. And the exotic nature of an English bloke...

I didn't know Pocahontas was a real person. I always thought this was a myth built upon by Disney and an inspiration for a Neil Young lyric. Now I know. And good old Terence Malick attempts to tell her story. It's easy to be cynical about The New World. It's possible I will only accept some new form of narrative from a Malick picture. In reality this only first appeared with Days of Heaven, he continued the dream screen for the second half of The Thin Red Line and nailed it with Tree Of Life. So The New World has most in common with his first film Badlands. Unrequited love, forbidden fruit, the idealism of yearning loins, the tricks the memory plays on the mind...hold on, I'm getting a bit carried away here. Yeah, it's two young people in love when they shouldn't be.

Malick is an original no doubt, but he has a big problem. His male casting. Badlands aside, he's always going for the hunk on the block, pleasing on the eye but not so engaging for the brain. So for Days Of Heaven we get the original American Gigolo Richard Gere. For The Thin Red Line we get all sorts of heavy hitters (Nick Nolte, Sean Penn) and a lot of Woody Harrelson (!?). Back to the brawn of Brad Pitt for The Tree Of Life. Even his new movie coming this year (To The Wonder), the lead actor is Ben Affleck. But Mr Malick out 'hunks' himself with The New World (drum roll)...Colin (fuck**g) Farrell. And Christian Bale. Double whipped cream hunk-o-meter just exploded. And here's the problem, Farrell is rubbish at the best of times, but in The New World he's playing a roadie for Marrilion as opposed to the new world explorer he's supposed to be playing. This unbelievable miscasting ruins The New World. Malick affords Farrell lots of screen time to look serious – poetic, a thinking man. This picture of the central Captain Smith is shattered by Farrell's appalling voiceover. Bale is wasted in his minor role.

To compound matters, Malick shows us glimpses of how brilliant The New World could have been. It looks amazing, the nature and wilderness of Virginia is brilliantly captured. Q'orianka Kilcher (apparently only 14 at the time of filming) is really great as Pocahontas. The small screen time Christopher Plummer is afforded lends the film something it misses without him (i.e. a presence).  But it's not enough. You often think Malick is careful with his choices, so rare are his films. But lets just forget the miscasting and missed opportunities The New World presents us. Malick's biggest failing here is managing not to give us an interesting film about the meeting of Native American and English culture and the contradictions that inevitable clash brings.


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