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"The New World"

Directed by Terrence Malick.
Written by Terrence Malick.
Starring Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  1/10/06


The man that brought us "The Thin Red Line" does not work very often, so when he does you betta recognize, fool!  (I guess when you only work once every ten years or so on average, you GOTTA recognize, eh?)

I got a freebie to catch Terrence Malick's latest epic, "The New World", which was shown at the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring earlier tonight.  Strangely, this is the first time I have been to this theater, but now, after going, I can say hands-down it's the best theater in the Washington area.  There are about 30 seats near the back that are basically VIP seats, but I got to the movie early enough to snag one and let me put it simply:

Daddy was hangin' the fuck out!!!

Comfy plush, big armrests, a side table for my tasty beverage and assorted food that I could have bought out in the lobby, and unobstructed sightlines for my viewing pleasure.  Mmmm, it's almost as good as bacon.  Almost.

Much like the theater, "The New World" is peaceful, serene, a breath of fresh air and a fantastic picture for those that love the movies...although, I sensed while watching that many people--certainly the untrained eye--will watch this film and get bored, because there is simply a lack of things going on.  Colin Farrell is the lead performer in this film but I hesitate to call him the star of it, because his character, Captain John Smith, isn't really the driver of the film's events, its main character nor is he the film's true essence.  In fact, I think he has less than 50 lines in this movie; he is mainly our point of view when the Captain Newport-led English--arriving in Virginia in 1607 attempting to set up a camp--send Smith to learn about "the naturals", "the savages" that already occupy said land.  Over the course of what might be a year, Smith becomes ingrained learning from a tribe of native people, including a young girl named Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), who takes Smith under her wing while learning the white man's bastardized language and the white man's devastating knack for showing up and killing the rightful owners of a land to take it over.  Smith leaves the tribe to return to his camp, only to find it in ruins and on the verge of a mass mutiny.  More months pass, and finally, Newport (Christopher Plummer) returns from his trip to England with more settlers, more women, and more supplies.  By this time, a whole bunch happens that puts Pocahontas in the hands of the settlers and in an affair with a widower (Christian Bale) who seeks the hand of a native princess.

It may sound like the film has this big story with many details and an epic scope.  In reality, "The New World" is one continuously beautiful shot of the outdoors, complete with badass Indians in tribal makeup, nature shots (much like the work in "The Thin Red Line", you will occasionally get shots of things like spiders crawling or water flowing or characters petting tree branches) and transition sequences.  Time passes quickly, quietly, sometimes accompanied by a score, sometimes not.  Because of the language barrier during the Smith/Pocahontas initial courtship, there is about 30 minutes of screen time where almost nothing is said to any other character directly, although voiceover is used sporadically throughout.  Even when lines are spoken, you don't always understand them, because the English English that is spoken is hard to pick up.

This movie is quiet.  But, I loved it, oh I loved it so!  It's very artsy, but not artsy-fartsy, in that Malick is patient with his filmmaking but doesn't appear to be giving us shots for the sake of art.  The cinematography is very simple, with long, beautiful shots of forests, plains, the village, the water.  He doesn't fall victim to MTV-style quick cuts and snap camera movements.  The characters don't have long soliloquies on the state of the union, or lack thereof, although one Indian character does begin to wax prophecy when he talks about the white man and their attempts to take over the coast.  "The New World" just gives it to you straight, and it makes for a well thought-out night at the movies.

The performances mostly get by, but the work of rookie Kilcher is perfect.  (I understand she won the National Board of Review's Breakthrough Performance by an Actress Award this week, and I can see why.)  She does most of her work without any sound, but her hand movements in her expression of love for Smith really do speak to the audience, along with a smile that could win awards for years to come.  Kilcher has the majority of the film's screen time and she leaves a lasting impression as an actress with a bright future ahead.

One last note--the version that I saw of this film was about 130 minutes, but I understand that a longer version has been running in New York & L.A. over the last two weeks, and that the wide release version will be different than what I saw tonight.  If I had to guess, it will be shorter than what I saw, which is too bad--I didn't think there was much to be cut from this beautiful-looking print of the flick.  Whatever version you see, I think you will enjoy the experience, more so if you like your film served in a high society mug.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09