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Review: The New World (2005)

The New World (2005)

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Premise: A dramatization of British settlers founding Jamestown and their relations with the Native Americans.

What Works: The main narrative thrust of the story is between John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Kilcher is the lead protagonist and the true focus of the story. She gives a great performance as a young woman who, like the North American continent, is transformed by the arrival of the Europeans. There is some very smart, albeit subtle, storytelling devices being used in the film that create a very well structured narrative. This one of the most sophisticated portrayals of the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans that has ever been seen because of its even handedness towards both sides and its refusal to reduce the characters to merely violent savages or to politically correct ecologists. 

What Doesn’t: Malick is a challenging filmmaker and many mainstream viewers will be frustrated by the apparent lack of action and his poetic editing style. The film is so focused on the story of Pocahontas that we miss a lot of the plight of the Jamestown settlers.

Bottom Line: The New World is brilliant filmmaking. It will not be accessible to all audiences, especially those limited to mainstream filmmaking techniques. This is necessary viewing for those interested in historical films or fans of Malick’s other work.

Episode: #86 (February 26, 2006)