Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA/United Kingdom, 2005. New Line Cinema, Sunflower Productions, Sarah Green Film, First Foot Films, The Virginia Company LLC. Screenplay by Terrence Malick. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Produced by Sarah Green. Music by James Horner. Production Design by Jack Fisk. Costume Design by Jacqueline West. Film Editing by Richard Chew, Hank Corwin, Saar Klein, Mark Yoshikawa.
Like all of Terrence Malick’s films, this epic adventure is so gorgeous you’ll think you’re leafing through a book of high-art photographs; unfortunately, the experience of watching it is not much more exciting than that. Colin Farrell is more than substantial as Captain John Smith, a mutineer who is given a second chance when his ship arrives in early 17th-century Virginia and its passengers plan to start up a colony. Ship’s captain Christopher Plummer lets Smith work his way back to favour by entreating him to travel up the river to a native king and begin communications with him, which Farrell does, living among the natives and falling in love with the King’s daughter, Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). From there the story becomes hers, as she suffers the loss of her beloved to his kingdom, and learns to find new affection in another settler, John Rolfe (Christian Bale). Rolfe’s marriage to the New World Princess brings him fame in England and garners the couple an audience with the King and Queen, which makes Pocahontas (by this point re-christened Rebecca) a name for history to remember. Blessed with a powerful score by James Horner, stunning period detail and a more nuanced and realistic (not just sympathetic) look at Native Americans than any major studio has ever shown before, this film also does an impressive job of taking a middle-road approach to the early difficulties between the newcomers and the established natives. While historians over the centuries have picked sides over the tragedies of miscommunication or whose success was more deserving, Malick tells us that conflict is an inevitability of nature and that whatever love survives is the part worth remembering. The downside to the experience of watching this film is that the plot, while rich with details, not to mention Kilcher’s stunning debut performance, lacks any sort of propulsion. It’s a great way to learn more about early American life for those of us who weren’t satisfied by the Disney version, but don’t expect either an action-packed thrill ride or a deeply-probing, intelligent drama (incidentally, actress Irene Bedard, who here plays Pocahontas’s mother, was the voice of the character in the 1995 Disney film).
The Criterion Collection: #826
Academy Award Nomination: Best Cinematography