To say that writer-director-producer Terrence Malick is a phenomenon in the world of Hollywood is a bit of an understatement.
After his first two full length features, ‘Badlands’ (1973) and \”Days of Heaven’ (1978), were hailed as classics in the 1970s, the Texas native took a two-decade hiatus, spending most of his time teaching in France before returning in 1998 with the Academy Award-nominated ‘The Thin Red Line.’
Seven years later we are up to speed as Malick, who stipulates in his contract that pictures of him will not be released and that he will do no promotion, has emerged with yet another epic, ‘The New World,’ a more realistic take on the Pocahantas story starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer and introducing 15-year-old Q’Orianka Kilcher.
‘The New World’ falls in line with the rest of Malick’s films in that it manages to be both artistic, even poetic, and maintain an interesting and engaging narrative.
In an emerging Hollywood that is unfortunately not afraid to make movies that are too long (‘King Kong,’ ‘Munich’), moviegoers should appreciate a recent gesture made by Malick, in which he pulled the movie from its Christmas-day opening to tighten the film up. Specifically, this meant taking out some of his signature stylistic qualities, what producer Sarah Green called in a recent New York Times article ‘leisure shots.’ These are characterless landscape and nature shots, which occur between scenes throughout the movie. This cut was also made after the original three-hour version was cut down to two hours and fifteen minutes.
While I hope these changes make the movie more accessible to the mass movie-going population, the entirety of the film, including the leisure shots, are striking. ‘The Colors of the Wind’ do no justice to Malick’s 17th century Virginia. This may be due to the fact that this is the first movie since Kenneth Branaugh’s ‘Hamlet’ (1998) to be shot on 65 mm film, which gives the movie a distinctly picturesque grittiness that makes the movie a true original.
The rhythm of this film is also like none other that I have seen. The characteristic Malick voice-overs are present and add to the pace, but the actual action of the movie is very intriguing. Some parts are quickly paced and over before you can realize what has happened. Other moments are lingering and provocative. The ending, which I found pitch-perfect for this movie, manages to encompass both of these contrasting tones.
Besides Malick’s filmmaking, the other shining star in this movie is Kilcher, who may be nominated for an Academy Award as an anomaly, but should be nominated for her strong and emotive performance. While watching the movie, it is hard to imagine that this is Kilcher’s first feature role. Not even old enough to drive, she is already stealing scenes from Farrell and Bale.
Kilcher, an aspiring singer/songwriter and relative of singer Jewel Kilcher, was born in Germany, but is Swiss and native South American of Quechua decent.
Kilcher’s love interests, Farrell and Bale, both give strong performances. While Farrell doesn’t say much in this film and is often considered to be an overrated actor, I found him to bring sense of strength and compassion to his Irish-accented John Smith. Bale continues to bring class and intelligence to Hollywood as John Rolfe, another complicated, yet compassionate character.
One of the best things about ‘The New World’ is how real it feels. Perhaps a historian would say differently, but to a person with general historical knowledge, the movie’s realism is refreshing and entertaining.
This quality is found deeply in the depiction of Native Americans, who seem neither like savages or unanimously benevolent. The complex mix gives their culture the same amount or human-ness as the Jamestown settlers.
It may not be the real thing, as some have said that Malick’s version is based more on a 19th century romantic interpretation. But, it is far enough from ‘Pocahontas’ (this name actually never appears in the film) to be satisfying.
‘The New World’ is set to be released on Jan. 20.