The New World

First written in the early '80s, Terrence Malick's fourth film in three decades is a trancelike take on the relationship of Native American princess Matoaka — better known by the nickname Pocahontas ("naughty one") — and English adventurer John Smith. Malick attempts to rehabilitate a story usually cloaked in cloying romanticism and disingenuous historical...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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First written in the early '80s, Terrence Malick's fourth film in three decades is a trancelike take on the relationship of Native American princess Matoaka — better known by the nickname Pocahontas ("naughty one") — and English adventurer John Smith. Malick attempts to rehabilitate a story usually cloaked in cloying romanticism and disingenuous historical mythmaking, but reconceiving Pocahontas and Smith as symbols of the noble savage and the man tragically stunted by civilization's constraints isn't inherently truer than the legend. Malick's extensive use of poetic voice-over lends the film a disconcerting air of adolescent naivete. Virginia colony, 1607: British ships under the command of Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) land on the shores of what will one day be the Jamestown settlement, its passengers and crew wading through water asway with waist-high grasses from which "naturals" — as they call the half-naked indigenous peoples — emerge to sniff curiously at their pale skin. Newport, who's returning immediately to England for supplies, releases Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) from shackles, revokes his death sentence for "mutinous remarks" and appoints him to lead a small delegation to the natives' village while the rest of the men establish a settlement. Smith and his men are attacked and only he survives to be brought before Chief Powhaten (August Schellenberg), who orders him clubbed to death. But Powhaten's favorite daughter, Pocahontas (14-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher), pleads for Smith's life; Powhaten cannily releases the prisoner into Pocahontas' custody, hoping she'll learn the language and — more important — discover the intentions of these intruders. Smith and the spirited girl flirt and frolic, and while she masters English, he learns to see the world as a great continuum of which human beings are only a part, not the center. When Smith finally returns to the settlement bearing much-needed provisions, he's confronted with civilization at its grimmest, a Hobbesian horror ruled by disease, superstition and brute force. Though the 150-minute film's heart is the ill-fated lovers' Edenic summer, it's most vivid in its last half-hour: Pocahontas, made over into an English lady and married to tobacco farmer John Rolfe (Christian Bale), travels with her husband to England where she's feted and watched like an exotic bird as she drifts through topiary gardens and audiences with the rich and powerful. Kilcher brings an impressive gravity to her portrayal of a once-willful girl reduced to a ghost drifting through some strange facsimile of life, and Malick's evocation of the gulf between the old and the new worlds is infinitely more sophisticated than the dreamy idylls of the attenuated Virginia segment.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: First written in the early '80s, Terrence Malick's fourth film in three decades is a trancelike take on the relationship of Native American princess Matoaka — better known by the nickname Pocahontas ("naughty one") — and English adventurer John Smith. Mali… (more)

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