Directed by Terrence Malick, starring Q'Orianka Kilcher, Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, David Thewlis and August Schellenberg.
While hardly an epic, 'The New World' certainly deserves the hype that has been sent its direction since the turn of the year, if only for the re-appearance of Terrence Malick and the re-emergence of Colin Farrell.
Director Terrence Malick is known for taking his time between his widely hailed feature films. Indeed, his last outing was in 1998 with the war classic 'The Thin Red Line'. Add to that the fact that he trades special effects for focusing on relationships between people, and their relationship with the earth, and you can begin to appreciate the thought that goes into each of his works.
Colin Farrell plays the male lead character, John Smith, an army officer seeking redemption in the newly discovered (and yet-to- be-named) America. He is trying to put the ills of his life firmly behind him and carry on towards the horizon. The energy Farrell brings to the majority of his roles makes him perfect for this part.
Most people are familiar with the character of Pocahontas from the Disney classic of the mid-1990s. Director Malick portrays her in a very different light by focusing on her innocence and love of all things in nature. The casting has been well done here, with the part going to 16-year-old Native American actress Q'Orianka Kilcher, who recently admitted that her first kiss was on screen with her co-star Farrell, and she beautifully fulfils the role of an innocent, angelic teenage girl.
The story begins with Smith arriving in America bound in chains, for mutinous behaviour, by Captain Newport (Plummer). His life is spared by the Captain and he is sent to seek a trade agreement with the natives when food eventually runs out. The natives do not react kindly to him and his life is only saved when Pocahontas begs her father, the King of the natives (Schellenberg), to show him mercy.
However, mercy comes at a price and the understanding is that the English will depart the new lands once their supplies have been exhausted - no trade is to occur with the settlers. Smith stays on in the village and a loving relationship develops between him and the young girl before he eventually returns to his starving, and now mutinous, people.
Pocahontas, clearly the darling of the natives and apple of her father's eye, again shows her benevolent side and smuggles food and crop seeds to the village that Smith has established. When her father learns of her indiscretion she is cast away from her people and is never allowed to return. From here on the movie deals with the differences between Smith and Pocahontas, his unwillingness to settle as opposed to her love of the earth and all that is planted with roots.
There is a large focus on nature throughout the movie and the plot is quite tiresome as it lumbers from one point to another with a three-minute shot of geese flying in formation. Additionally, it seems that Terrence Malick was so keen to attach realism to the storyline that he has slowed down time, making you feel as though you're after spending three or fours years in the darkness of the movie theatre.
That aside, it is this realism that sets 'The New World' apart from the epics and battles that we have grown accustomed to in the various attempts to tell a historical tale on the silver screen in the last decade. This is the closest that most of us will come to realising what the first settlers in America faced.
The acting performances are spot on with Q'Orianka Kilcher stealing the thunder from Farrell, Plummer and Bale. The only real disappointment here was the limited use of David Thewlis. Indeed it would be a surprise if either Kilcher or Farrell failed to receive a nomination for the upcoming Academy Awards.
'The New World' is sure to be remembered as one of the most important movie events of 2006 for the timely reminder it gives us of Terrence Malick's ability to use nature to aid his storytelling and the way that Colin Farrell has rescued himself from the debacle that was 'Alexander'.