The New World

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(2005) ★★★

Sky Movies Select: Monday 18 May, 1.55pm

Early in the 17th century, an English expedition comes face to face with Native Americans in Virginia’s coastal swamplands. The astonished Indians watch, agitated, as the wooden ships draw closer and approach the colonists as timidly as a herd of deer. Although Colin Farrell’s Captain John Smith will get close and personal with Indian princess Pocahontas, the attitude of the invaders will ensure that paradise is lost as soon as it is found. A romantic elegy for America as it once was, a land stretching away forever in vast meadows, unsullied by greed and deceit. Along with disease, these were imported by the Europeans. Anyone familiar with Disney’s Pocahontas knows that this legend has an unhappy ending, although it’s hard to divine the tragedy in Terrence Malick’s deeply disappointing backwoods romance. It’s a marvel of sorts, just not by his exacting standards. A drama that too often feels arbitrary (Malick cut 17 minutes after its initial US release), a love story that seems too timorous (two timorous love stories, actually, when Christian Bale shows up late on at the Virginia tobacco plantation). In short, sometimes obviously truncated, scenes we’re given glimpses of life in the New World. But this covers old territory for Malick. It’s Days of Heaven in the style of Barry Lyndon. There’s none of the excitement and grandeur of Michael Mann’s colonial epic Last of the Mohicans. The music, too, lacks the elemental immersion of Hans Zimmer’s great score for Malick’s masterpiece The Thin Red Line. And Malick’s trademark use of voice-over narration fails him this time. It’s all very well being privy to people’s innermost thoughts – the delusional lovestruck teenager in Badlands, the bitter and fearful child in Days of Heaven, the fractured minds of terrified soldiers in The Thin Red Line – but here it’s about desire, affairs of the heart. It seems a bit moony. And the rigorous director of Days of Heaven has continued to lose his head in the clouds, in The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. His new film Knight of Cups doesn’t sound much like a return to earth, either. Here, Smith and Pocahontas are surrounded by the sounds and senses of an unspoiled world, the breeze blowing through the cornfields, the waves gently lapping at the shore. In such a setting, how can love be denied? Smith is smitten, that’s for sure: “There is only this… all else is unreal.” So that’s it, then: life is but a dream. The most notable aspect of this misty-eyed myth-making is the graceful portrayal of Pocahontas by newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher, an unfeasibly poised fourteen when the film was shot.

Certificate: 12
Duration: 135min