Friday, September 18, 2009

Insomniac Movie Reviews - Part 3

Director Terrance Malick's The New World was on IFC last night. Again we meet the story of Pocahontas and John Smith and aside from portraying an unsubstantiated romance between these two historic characters, the film does present what appears to be a very accurate portrayal of the Jamestown colonies.

Early in the film, the dashing maverick John Smith (Colin Farrell, of course) becomes separated from his comrades while searching for provisions. He is taken prisoner by the Powhatans and when presented before chief Wahunsunacawh, Smith's life is spared by the chief’s daughter, played with earthy elegance by the actress Q'orianka Kilcher.

Not only is Smith’s life spared, but his captivity becomes a sort of friendly coexistence with his captors. His days become filled with friendly, almost initiation-like excursions with his hosts. Most importantly, however, he and Pocahontas establish a connection that swelters into romance.

Considering the last big screen adaptation of these two was done by Disney, this film really could have gone off the camp cliff pretty quickly at this point. Instead, Malick beautifully uses a series of long, meditative sequences. The film departs into a dream-like phase where Smith and Pocahontas take long, quiet walks interspersed with moments either seated in the forest or chasely lying in grassy fields. With Kubrick-esque unobtrusiveness, the camera either floats around Farrell and Malick or simply rests next to them as they dreamily gaze off.

The soundtrack during these sequences is either taken from classical compositions or (even more refreshingly), the unaltered sounds of nature providing a beautifully textured auditory background.

But just as Pocahontas and Smith commit to one another, Smith is sent back to a Jamestown in complete deprivation and social disarray. He reluctantly now must govern the starving colonists who ultimately are saved mid-winter by provisions from Pocahontas. Their leader Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) arrives and Smith is sent back to England. Eventually Pocahontas emerges from the depression caused by Smith's departure. She then becomes the bride of John Rolfe played by an understated, refreshingly non-megalomaniac Christian Bale.

Despite the occasional colonist-native American battle scene, this is a very peaceful, meditative film that’s unafraid to simply allow viewers to open, quiet stretches of time with these characters. Amid the silence you find you’re brought into their rich inner world, especially with the numbingly beautiful Q'orianka Kilcher. It’s a rare treat to have a filmmaker who’s not obsessed with beating an audience down with plot and canned dialouge.

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