World view: Christopher Plummer, Q'Orianka Kilcher, and Christian Bale
New Line Cinema
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, and Q'Orianka Kilcher
On average, Terrence Malick directs one movie per decade. The 1970s were an unusually prolific period for him and he directed two (although he made up for it by avoiding the '80s altogether). In fact, after making his third film, Days of Heaven, in 1978, it was 20 years before he made number four, 1998's The Thin Red Line. Now, after another relaxing, extended vacation, Malick has returned to filmmaking with a Pocahontas movie called The New World.
Don't worry, there isn't a talking raccoon. Instead we get a sweaty, dirty Colin Farrell as John Smith. It's 17th-century Virginia and the first English settlers have just landed at Jamestown. They claim the land as their own and begin to set up shop. Its current residents, called Naturals by the Jamestonians (presumably because their warriors have a great swing), are naturally somewhat perturbed.
John Smith is one of the settlers, and he wanders around in the grass for a while until he meets a native girl. Commissioned to seek out the Naturals' king and trade with him, Smith ends up back in her people's camp, where he teaches them important things like English. The girl turns out to be the king's daughter, and the pair decide they like each other well enough to wander around in the grass together. So Malick's film meanders around with them as they do interesting things like look at the sky. Just to spice it up a little, sometimes Malick jump-cuts away from them to a random shot of a bush or a sunset.
Most of the film continues on this way, aimlessly wandering as Smith and Pocahontas (who is never called Pocahontas) fall in love and deal with the intricacies of settler/Natural relations. Eventually things turn sour, and John Smith skips right out of the picture. He's replaced by John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who magically materializes out of nowhere three-fourths of the way through to become The New World's new male lead. Personally, I didn't think Farrell's performance was bad enough to warrant being run right out of the pic.
Malick tells his long, inflated story through layer after layer of jump-cutting. He never lets his scenes play out to any kind of conclusion. Characters stare blankly off into space, Malick jumps to a shot of some random piece of scenery, then jumps to that same character on an entirely different day staring blankly at something else. There's not much dialogue here. Most of the movie's sound is spent on swelling, randomly chosen music. When that's not blaring, the film's completely silent. When any of the characters does bother to say a word or two, it's muttered under their breath. You'd better be listening closely, or you'll miss it.
I might as well come right out and say it: this is an unforgivably long, incredibly boring movie. It's beautiful — the scenery is often compelling and there's plenty of it. The performances are good too, 15-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher is amazing as Pocahontas (though it's a little discomfiting to see her kissing 30-year-old men). But Malick has put all that into a movie that I can only assume he deliberately set out to make boring, a tedious test of audience patience. If you think two hours of characters lazily holding hands on the beach makes for good viewing, then you'll love The New World. Otherwise, look for some other way to paint with all the colors of the wind. Malick's New World is a fantastic place to takea nap.