Beautiful, poetic & serene, Terrence Malick’s fourth feature film is an elegantly crafted, lyrically narrated, exquisitely photographed & sincerely performed historical drama that brings a forgotten world to life with soothing grace & meticulous attention to detail, and tells the story of Pocahontas & England’s colonization of the Americas in a meditative manner.
The story of The New World unfolds in the early 17th century and follows an explorer who attempts to negotiate a trade between the natives & settlers and has his life spared by Pocahontas, the tribe’s chieftain’s daughter. The two end up falling in love but when tension arises between the two clans and war breaks out, each side brands their own lover a traitor.
Written & directed by Terrence Malick (best known for Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line & The Tree of Life), the first hour of The New World finds the auteur painting a world without greed or corruption on the canvas and even in the most discomforting moments when things go awry & violent, Malick somehow manages to keep its calm & tranquilizing tone alive.
At its core, The New World is an innocent love story between two people from opposite cultures, and the tenderness with which it is portrayed is the film’s true strength. There are times when it wanders & meanders, as is the case with most of the director’s works, but the romance shared between its key characters is what prevents it from losing its sense of direction.
The lush locations expertly recreate the lost world the film’s events take place in. Cinematography magnifies the richness of its surroundings with its controlled camerawork, fitting colour tones & accurate lighting. Editing is brilliantly carried out in the first hour but its 172 minutes runtime is strongly felt afterwards. Sound is handled with precision while the background score is intermittently but finely utilized.
Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Q’orianka Kilcher, Colin Farrell, Christian Bale & Christopher Plummer, with Kilcher impressing the most. Perfectly cast as Pocahontas, she is the very embodiment of her character and despite her inexperience, manages to carry the entire film on her shoulders. Farrell is just as compelling, Plummer does well with what he’s given while Bale chips in with a restrained input.
On an overall scale, The New World isn’t a film that will strike the same chord with everyone. While some will appreciate the meditative approach & aesthetic eye with which this tale is brought to life, others will feel challenged & frustrated by its glacial pace & endless musings. The film had my attention during the first hour or so, and Kilcher’s nuanced performance is thoroughly engrossing but while I do admire the romanticism behind the project, I sure don’t plan to return to it anytime soon.