The New World
|Colin Farrell||Captain John Smith|
|Christopher Plummer||Captain Newport|
|Wes Studi||Christian Bale|
|Directed by||Terrence Malick|
Somewhere deep inside Terrence Malick?s head, there is a beautiful movie playing. It may be a brilliant movie, but we?ll never really know. From time to time, snatches of it bleed out into The New World. But too often it?s just people blundering about in the dim woods, muttering either in Algonquin, which most of us can?t understand (we do get subtitles), or in base forms of English (unsubtitled), which are even harder to make out.
Malick is a meticulous worker. He takes a long time to make a movie. In five decades he?s directed five films (he went a little crazy with two in the ?70s, but then he skipped the ?80s.) In all that time he must do a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, a lot of research. Malick wrote this script a quarter of a century ago, and my guess is he knows the story of Pocahontas and John Smith inside and out. But as he ekes it slowly into view, it seems that a lot of the good chunks stay stuck to the bottom of the jug, and what pools onto the screen are a lot of strands of agonizingly thin sap. That?s not to say that there isn?t rich stuff mixed in as well ; and as this movie goes on, you gradually begin flirting with the suspicion that it might be something special. But along the way, your patience will be sorely abused. For all the attention to accuracy and detail, the core of the movie is based on a romantic falsehood. Historians pretty much agree that there was probably no love affair between the 27-year-old adventurer and the 11-year-old Indian princess. But a movie wants a love story, and I have no quarrel with that.
Malick starts off with a wonderful vision of the first encounter of the Algonquins and the Europeans. The year is 1607. As three British ships sail into a Virginia bay, the natives scamper along through the woods by the shore, exclaiming and shouting and pointing at this marvelous apparition. Among them is an enchanting slip of a girl, Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher.) The English landing party comes ashore, and there is much curious circling, sniffing, and poking, punctuated with excited cries. So far, so good. Then comes a brief, silly scene in which John Smith (Colin Farrell) is reprieved from hanging by the company?s commander, Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer.) It?s in there to show that Smith is a bit of a scalawag ; but our hearts are not in our throats when the star stands under a noose in the first ten minutes of a movie. Even Smith seems unimpressed, and it may be a game he and Newport have played before.
With that out of the way, Smith is dispatched to rustle up provisions. ?The Naturals,? says Newport, ?tell me of a city up the river?.? Smith sets out to find the domain of Powhatan (August Schellenberg), but Powhatan?s men find him first. They drag him into town and put him through a scary scene which appears to he headed for a beheading (it may, historically, have just been a form of hazing.) Then comes the money moment every schoolchild knows : Pocahontas, the chief?s daughter, intervenes and Smith?s life is spared. And they fall in love. Smith teaches her English (?sun?, ?wind?, ?lips?), but for the most part they circle each other wordlessly and gaze into each other?s eyes. Still, by the time Smith returns to his base, Pocahontas has somehow learned fluent, flawlessly-accented English from this thick-brogued, mumbling Irishman.
The Native Americans are not entirely happy with their new neighbors. One brave (Wes Studi) warns ?We must drive them away while they are still few,? a curiously prescient idea considering that these are the first and only Europeans they have ever seen. The English build a log fort, and erect a giant cross above it. Later, they will take Pocahontas hostage, and bring her to live in the fort as insurance against Indian attack. In a reflection of the fort and cross, she will be dressed in constricting English clothes and converted to Christianity.
The main light that shines from this film comes from the presence of the 14-year-old Kilcher, who can light up a dark forest with her infectious delight in life. She ages with impressive conviction into the young woman who marries Virginia tobacco farmer John Rolfe (a sympathetic and affecting Christian Bale), and goes to London to meet the King and Queen. Kilcher carries herself with the dignity befitting Pocahontas?s royal station, and she and Bale fit the period gracefully. Farrell as the scapegrace, love-?em-and-leave-?em Smith is brooding and handsome, and he has his moments, but you can?t imagine him in an era that hadn?t known James Dean. Malick burdens his three principals with voice-overs (?There is that in her?I shall not know??) designed to sound like the voice of the times, but they fall heavily on the ear. This being Terrence Malick, the picture is languorous and beautiful, although it might have benefited from slightly less languor and more beauty It was originally longer ; at least twenty minutes have been removed for general release. Most of it was shot on 65 mm, the first movie since Kenneth Branagh?s Hamlet (1996) to employ that expensive film stock. In some ways the movie most fulfils itself when it leaves the new world, and shows us the old through the eyes of the Native Americans. One of the most striking images is of an Algonquin emissary (Studi) wandering through the elegant geometric design of a palace garden, marveling at this strange new world where nature has been tamed and brought to heel.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be
© Pictures K.F.D.