A whole ‘New World’

“The New World”New Line CinemaDirected and written by Terrence MalickStarring: Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, David Thewlis, Wes Studi and Yorick Van WageningenRated PG-13/ 150 minutesOpened Jan. 20, 2006Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Let’s get this out of the way first-“The New World” is not the movie the trailer tells us it is. It is not an action extravaganza (though there is some action), it is not sexy, it is not “fun.”

Those aren’t criticisms, they’re facts. The divide between the film that people expect and the one they actually see is often pretty significant.

In this case, those who have seen Terrence Malick’s previous work should have a pretty good idea whether or not they will enjoy this one. If you liked “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line”-or any of the above-you’ll probably enjoy “The New World.”

This is a film about discovery-very literally about two worlds completely alien to one another suddenly co-existing on the same soil. It is set in the 17th century, and a contingency of British explorers, led by Capt. Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer) and John Smith (Colin Farrell), arrive on the soil of the “New World.” Much of the film spends its time on the budding relationship between Smith and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), the young and favored daughter of the natives’ chief. The two gradually grow a sort of mutual affection that neither can quite understand but that neither can resist, either, and the relationship develops slowly amid growing tension between the colonists and the natives.

The film’s primary flaw is that, while the relationship is interesting for a while, it’s not as interesting as many of the film’s other elements, which get unfortunately overshadowed. It might have worked a little better had Malick decided to focus more on the battles, both physical and otherwise, between these two very different cultures.

For those who have read a little history, it’s not spoiling anything to tell you that Pocahontas and Smith are eventually separated, and she ends up marrying the wealthy John Rolfe (Christian Bale). Bale doesn’t show up until the film’s third act but is excellent in a small, reserved role.

Even more impressive is the debut of Kilcher, who was 14 when the movie was filmed, but who displays rare emotional range and maturity. She is even more impressive considering her character has to undergo an extraordinary amount of change over the course of the film-more than anyone else.

Malick rarely comes out of cinematic hiding, as he has directed just four films in 33 years, but when he does, it’s usually worth the wait. “New World” is no exception.

While not his finest effort (that would have to be the 1973 classic “Badlands”), “The New World” will reward those who have patience. Malick has always been less of a narrative structuralist and more of a visual poet, and he puts his talents to great use here. He has an uncanny eye for visuals, and the exquisite outdoor photography in “The New World” alone is worth the price of admission. We could use more filmmakers like Malick.

Like the rest of his work, “The New World” is rich with detail and historically and emotionally fascinating.

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