When the chief of the Powhatan tribe (August Schellenberg), his daughter Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher), and their fellow Native Americans spy the stately galleons (‘floating islands’) approaching their virgin shores the vessels must have seemed as alien as spaceships from another planet. The British have come 1600s-style with notions of colonising the New World. There is mutual incomprehension between the white settlers and the ‘naturals’ or ‘naked devils’ as they are nicknamed.
Pocahontas’s tribe take captive the smouldering Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and despite major deficiencies in each other’s language, the tribal daughter and sailor spend time together and fall in love, to more incomprehension from the Native Americans and the British. It’s a relationship that’s not to be, and Pocohontas settles for settler John Rolfe (Christian Bale). As Rolfe proposes marriage thunderclaps are heard. This may not go well.
As she becomes increasingly Europeanised a trip to England beckons. She travels to be presented to royalty like some prize specimen eagle. This is as much a new world to her as America is for Smith.
Malick extracts fine performances from Farrell (in long locks and bare chest) and the conflicted Kilcher. In voiceover there’s much philosophising on the nature of land, home, life, love and, well, nature but in the director’s hands it never gets gooey. Excellent back-up is provided from the likes of Christopher Plummer and David Thewlis. But the real star is Malick’s transcendent, immersive vision, abetted by Emmanuel Lubezki’s exquisite cinematography, Jack Fisk’s pitch-perfect production design, and James Horner’s mesmeric score.
For Malick fans of a nerdish persuasion the boxset contains the First, Extended and Theatrical cuts (150, 172, and 135 minutes respectively). To one degree or another the different versions see Malick’s tendency to let the camera linger in full flower. It’s in contrast to the fast pace and cutting of most modern movies. Although the slow pace takes a bit of getting used to it is highly rewarding.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 14 Dec 2020