Q’orianka Kilcher The New World

Q’orianka Kilcher in The New World

Yes, another Malick film. The New World was actually the first Malick film I ever watched. Funnily enough, I saw the trailer in the previews for The Wedding Crashers, which I also loved, but I made a mental note to watch this film very soon. However, on my first viewing, I hated it. I hated it in a weird way. It seemed to me at first long, self-indulgent, and poorly written, but for all its foibles it was terribly pretty to look at. So the next time it came on–yep, you guessed it–HBO, I watched it and found myself gradually falling in love. The music was beautifully haunting. The camera couldn’t seem to make one false move. And the acting was spot on by every player, most notably Christian Bale and Q’orianka Kilcher.

The narration was initially jarring because it was neither used nor carried out traditionally. Typically, directors will opt for voiceovers for one of two reasons: Either their film was based on a much-beloved book or they are too lazy to show and decide to tell instead. Sometimes narration works, but more often than not it doesn’t. Good directors as well as bad directors rely on it, and even if it’s not awful, it’s almost always redundant. Generally, it’s supposed to provide background or give insight into the character’s state of mind. Malick takes the latter quite literally. Rather than have his characters explain themselves, he gives the audience a doorway into their mind. So instead of “It’s safe to say I liked Andy Dufresne from the start,” Malick gives us “Mother…now I know where you live…” We don’t always think in complete sentences, and we don’t always think in a linear way. And this became one of the reasons that I love Malick. He doesn’t treat his audience like first-graders who need everything explained to them in simplest terms.  He allows art to take precedence, and that’s probably why the narrative is my second favorite part of a Malick film–next to the visual poetry that man creates.

Now, about Kilcher. Like Jack, Kilcher as Pocahontas does not say much. This is understandable given the fact that she’s learning English throughout the first half of the film. Kilcher herself was fourteen when she filmed this, just a little older than the real Pocahontas was when she met John Smith. Spoiler-alert: The New World follows the traditional, unsubstantiated love story route. Kilcher and Farrell frolick in the woods, eyeing each other affectionately from afar, and so on and so on. The whole while, her performance is just mesmerizing. The camera loves her, and there’s something perfectly poetic about the way she saunters through the film, with an air of someone touched by the beauty of everything.

But what I love is the moment Bale comes on screen. The first half of the film, Kilcher is basically reduced to fulfilling the typical Pocahontas role: That of a young girl infatuated with an older, attractive man. While Kilcher plays it beautifully, her character is finally given some depth when she’s thrust into a new role: the wife of John Rolfe (Bale). The real Pochontas’s feelings about the marriage remain unknown, but she did have a child with tobacco farmer Rolfe. In Malick’s film, Pocahontas is still in love with John Smith and even though she likes Rolfe, she wonders whether she will ever “love” him like she loves Smith.

“He is like a tree. He shelters me. I lie in his shade,” whispers Kilcher in a haunting voiceover.

A conflicted young girl becomes a woman in these scenes, settling into married life and doting on her baby son. Here is where Kilcher is truly given a chance to shine, and the final five minutes of her performance (and indeed the film itself) are a thing of beauty.

TYLER HOECHLIN Road to Perdition

Here is another example of voiceover narration which oddly works, mainly because it only serves as the framework for the story. Admittedly, Hoechlin’s performance is not on quite the same par as the aforementioned performances.  He does a good job, and he is helped tremenduously by the direction of Sam Mendes. On the other hand, he is sometimes hindered by the script. But for the most part, he turns in a pretty solid performance alongside Tom  Hanks.

Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, and Liam Aiken in Road to Perdition

Hoechlin plays Michael Sullivan Jr., the son of a hitman (Hanks), who discovers his father’s less than upstanding occupation late one rainy night, and pays dearly for his curiosity. His brother and mother are subsequently murdered by his father’s colleague, and father and son are forced on the run. Hoechlin’s character is meant to be guilt-ridden and angry, which is palpable in his performance. He’s also a kid who does not know his father.  Road to Perdition in this way becomes part-Tragedy, part-Coming-of-Age, part-love story. Michael and his father finally understand each other, and though they have always loved each other, that love becomes even stronger. My favorite part of Hoechlin’s performance comes at the end of the film (which I won’t give away). He manages to be heartbreaking and a minute later–with a powerful voiceover–uplifting.

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