This remarkable movie offers a fable of American innocence and exploitation, a love story, and the late bloom of a cinematic sensibility that's on the way out. Terrence Malick recounts the Pocahontas story in the rapt, poetic style that has been magnificently his own since Badlands more than 30 years ago.
Colin Farrell, at his most saturnine, plays Captain John Smith, who in 1607 lands on the coast of what will become Jamestown, Virginia, and falls in love with a native princess (Q'Orianka Kilcher), later to be the saviour of the beleaguered British settlers. For more than two hours, Malick examines the meeting of old world and new with a sensuous, Vermeer-like attention to physical surfaces, catching the play of light and shade, or the way wind rustles through long grass. Dialogue takes second place to interior monologue, and action trails a long way behind dreamlike variations on the theme of a lost paradise.
Christian Bale is parachuted into the picture late on, taking the now-famous princess on a transatlantic visit to the court of James I and a sad reunion with a long-lost friend. The frequent surges of a Mozart piano concerto swell the mood so tautly one expects it to burst at any minute, yet Malick somehow brings the movie to rest with dignity and sanity (just about) intact. Nobody else makes pictures like this, and one fears nobody else will ever be allowed to.