Terrence Malick has a rare talent that almost no other director possesses and that is his ability to find the emotional essence of every scene and translate it into visuals. With most movies, you are lucky to see one or two moments that seem truly genuine, not the product of actors being staged or directed, but real emotions from real people. These are the moments that actually make you feel something, that have an impact on you. Sadly most movies lack these moments, turning what could be a great film into a mediocre one. However, Malick, the illusive director of Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978) and his best film The Thin Red Line (1998), which came twenty years later, manages to capture these moments of true emotion in every scene. I can not think of any other director whose films feel so real.
His most recent film, The New World in no exception. The most thematically and emotionally complex film of the year is also the best film of the year. And while only a few will probably agree with me, I can think of no other movie this year that packed so much content and emotion into its runtime. Every line, every scene is relevant and with a seven year break since his last film and a script which was finished in the late 1970s, I would expect nothing less. I was fortunate enough to be at the second to last showing of the longer two and a half hour version, of which Malick is cutting 15 minutes off of to supposedly create the film he really wants. And since, this movie will not make a lot of money regardless of whether they show the longer or shorter version, I have to believe what they say is true. However, Malick is apparently not cutting entire scenes, but just trimming shots. 15 minutes is a lot of trim. Nevertheless, I felt that a few parts could have been tightened up a bit, so I am eager to see what is changed in the new version.
Unfortunately, regardless of the film's length, there will be a lot of viewers who will not like this film. We are not used to seeing films with the intellectual caliber that this one has and the film's slow, but ever-engrossing pace might lose a few people along the way. However, the sheer beauty of the visuals and of the entrancing young lead should wow any seasoned movie-goer. Q'Orianka Kilcher delivers the best performance of the year. She's spellbinding, beautiful, graceful. She's also a 15 year old whose first kiss in her life was with Colin Farrell. Not too shabby. Farrell also gives the performance of his career, filled with subtlety and an emotional range that surpasses anything I could have expected from him. The relationship between these two is handled with the utmost care; every reaction is truthful and complex. Clichés are not in this film's vocabulary.
The visuals, like the performances, take your breath away. Filmed on location near the site of the original Jamestown, the set and costumes were made out of materials used by the original settlers and Native Americans. The film was also shot almost entirely with natural light, which is perfect for showing the interconnectedness of the characters to nature, a key theme in every Malick film. Nature is a force to be reckoned with and the survival of its human occupants is dependent on their ability to adapt to their surroundings. To use nature, not exploit it. Unlike The Thin Red Line, shot by cinematographer John Toll, which is much richer in color, the use of natural light and the often overcast skies illuminate The New World in almost shades of gray. This look adds greatly to the often somber and contemplative tone of the film. Also, the wide frame and use of 65mm for parts helps give the film its epic quality. A love story set during the settling of the New World.
Of all the movies to come out this year, and there have been some great ones, this is the one to see. It's a movie watching experience that comes along only rarely. Or at least in the years that Malick has released his films. Although his focus has never been on the fame or the awards, Malick deserves an Oscar for his work. He has created another masterpiece. I just hope I don't have to wait another twenty years for the next one.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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