The New World (2005)

Genres - Historical Film, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Dec 25, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 135 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Michael Buening

Terrence Malick aims for a kind of psychological realism through poetics in this stupendous reexamination of the Pocahontas myth. From the opening, when a group of frolicking Powhatan natives spy the approaching ships of Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) from the future Virginia's verdant shores, it's clear that Malick is less interested in historical accuracy than in a ground-level positing of how colonization was emotionally experienced when Jacobean England discovered a "new world." As in most tellings of the story, Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher) and Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell), through their romance, function as agents promoting change and peaceful integration of their respective cultures. But their good intentions are easily complicated; the probing voice-overs reveal them struggling to understand and never coming to terms with their desires. (A real-life romance most likely did not occur.) Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography employs the usual painterly imagery and break-away nature shots of Malick's other films, but in this film these techniques are perhaps best integrated into thematic structure, referencing the idea of "virgin land" and the role physical environment plays in cultural identity. The actors are universally strong, particularly Christian Bale's final-act appearance as the pious John Rolfe. Kilcher, 14 at the time of shooting, gives a mind-bogglingly complex revelatory performance that nearly overwhelms at the unexpected rush of the closing moments. In Malick's notoriously miniscule oeuvre, The New World easily stands as one of his best films.