I haven’t yet got to see the Tree Of Life but of all the Terrence Malick movies I have seen The New World is his weakest. It looks splendid and the editing of images with the soundtrack is a work of genius but the story plods along with a very wooden script.
Malick’s Days Of Heaven restored my faith in the voiceover but in The New World you have not just one, but three which seems to be over-egging it. These largely replace the need for dialogue and gives the movie a cold, detached quality.
Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith has the pissed off demeanour of a man who has stumbled into the wrong movie. He looks pumped up for some meaty action scenes but after some brief skirmishes with the savages (or ‘naturals’) these never materialise. There’s one unintentionally hilarious shot of him where one of the tribal leaders is talking to him in his native tongue. It’s not clear whether Farrell’s faraway look is meant to denote that he understands what the man is saying or whether he is thinking “what the fuck is this dude saying”?
On the subject of language, the speed with which Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) learns English is astounding. One minute she’s asking for some basic vocabulary – sun/sky/eyes/lips, the next she’s chatting away fluently. I wish some of my students were as gifted as her.
Christian Bale as John Rolfe swans around trying to look deep and sensitive but he’s never been an actor who convinces me.
I recognise that Malick’s poetic cinema is on a higher plain than most directors, and arguments rage about which version of this movie is the definitive one but my first impressions (I watched the extended cut) were not positive.
Maybe my expectations were too great. M aybe I need to see it again. After all, there are many who regard it as a misunderstood masterpiece.