Wednesday, March 22, 2006

THE NEW WORLD: A Pocahontas Love Story

(biographical adventure)
Time: 153 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Colin Farrell as Capt John Smith
THE New World is actually a movie about the life and loves of Pocahontas — although that name was never mentioned throughout the movie. Remember Pocahontas, the native American princess who helped the early settlers and later went to London to meet the King?

She was the heroine of the 1995 animated Disney movie immortalised by the song Colours Of The Wind. Now, why would the film-makers ‘neglect’ to mention her name in a movie about the legendary Native American girl who caused a minor sensation in England in the 17th Century?Could it be because writer-director Terrence Malick has ‘altered’ her character so much that she is more fiction than a part of English-American history? Or is it because she is so well-known that the name is irrelevant?

Whatever the reason, this just adds to the confusion that is The New World. Malick, who gave us The Thin Red Line and Days Of Heaven, is a director who treats celluloid as a canvas on which to ‘paint’ his movie. And we can see this ‘poetry in motion’ in the opening of the movie where the idyllic coast of Virginia is shattered by the blast of a ship’s cannon.

The English settlers, led by Capt Newport (Christopher Plummer) have arrived — and things will never be the same again for the Algonquian Indians and their chief, Powhatan (August Schellenberg). Before returning to England, Newport sends the trouble-maker John Smith (Colin Farrell) into the woods to look for fresh supplies. He is captured by the natives and is ‘saved’ from death by 12-year-old Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) who gradually falls in love with him.

However, when Smith returns to the fortress in Jamestown, tensions between the Englishmen and the natives bring an end to their relationship. Pocahontas is regarded as a traitor by her tribe and is exiled by her father. When Smith is sent off on another mission, tobacco planter John Rolfe (Christian Bale) enters Pocahontas’ life and he falls in love with her. They marry, have a son and he takes her to England...

But the focus of The New World is not just on Pocahontas. Malick places nature in the foreground, highlighting its scenery and sounds. However, this mix of visual poetry is spoilt by redundant monologues by Smith, Pocahontas and Rolfe. Not only are these voice-overs badly written, they intrude into the narrative and interrupt the flow of the story. Another problem is the role of newcomer Kilcher as Pocahontas. She looks a lot more mature than her 14 years but few among the viewers can relate to her. This may be because she has few speaking parts and little screen chemistry with Farrell and Bale.

The supporting cast include veteran Native American actor Wes Studi (as a Powhatan warrior) and Irene Bedard as Pocahontas’ mother. Interestingly, Bedard was the speaking voice of Disney’s Pocahontas — and this may be Malick’s tribute to the movie. An arty but flawed effort.


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