Based on the film's trailers, one might expect The New World (rated PG-13 for some intense battle sequences; also some scantily clad Native Americans and hints of sensuality) to be a politically correct, revisionist drama that pits idyllic "naturals" against imperialistic white settlers; but those willing to submit themselves to Mr. Malick's lyrical style may find the film is more than it first appears to be.
The film is ostensibly about the Jamestown colony, and Colin Farrell plays John Smith, an unlikely bit of casting until one understands where Mr. Malick intends to take his story. Newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher plays Pocahontas, the Native American princess whom Smith meets, befriends, and-according to legend accepted whole cloth by this film-comes to love.
Soon after arriving in Virginia, Smith spends time cavorting with Pocahontas in her native community, and the film seems to be delving into revisionist excess, creating a red-skinned bohemian paradise in the woods. But even as Smith describes the naturals' lifestyle in rapturous terms, the images onscreen don't always support Smith's sentiments.
Then Smith makes a jarring exit from the story, and Pocahontas-never named until she accepts the Christian name Rebecca-is left on her own among the colonists. A new male protagonist enters in the form of John Rolfe (Christian Bale), and this is where The New World really surprises, as the kind, reliable Rolfe is thematically pitted against a predecessor who clearly lacks those qualities. Rebecca's role also becomes more interesting, as she thrives as a mother, wife, and cultural ambassador to the old world.
Many viewers, with good reason, will scoff at the preponderance of internal monologue in the film, but those with the patience to make it to the story's conclusion may be surprised to find characters so unexpected and multilayered.