The Thin Red Line (1998)



Critic Consensus: The Thin Red Line is a daringly philosophical World War II film with an enormous cast of eager stars.

Movie Info

The return of director Terrence Malick to feature filmmaking after a twenty year sabbatical, this World War II drama is an elegiac rumination on man's destruction of nature and himself, based on James Jones' semi-autobiographical novel, his follow-up to From Here to Eternity. James Caviezel stars as Private Witt, a deserter living in peace and harmony with the natives of a Pacific island paradise. Captured by the Navy, Witt is debriefed by a senior officer (Sean Penn) and returned to an active … More

Rating: R (for realistic war violence and language)
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Directed By:
Written By: Terrence Malick
In Theaters:
On DVD: Nov 2, 1999
20th Century Fox - Official Site


as Pvt. Witt

as Pvt. Jack Bell

as Capt. James Bugger S...

as First Sgt. Edward We...

as Lt. Col. Gordon Tall

as Cpl. Fife

as Capt. Charles Bosche

as Capt. John Graf

as Sgt. Keck

as Second Lt. Whyte

as Pfc. Doll

as Pvt. Tills

as Sgt. Storm

as Pvt. Mazzi

as Sgt. McCron

as Coombs

as Becker

as Gordon/Earl

as Private Drake

as Assistant Pilot

as Kirk/Guide

as Nisei Interpreter

as Pvt. Ash

as Witt's Mother

as Melanesian Villager

as Lt. Col. Billig

as Pvt. Peale

as Japanese Officer No....

as Japanese Pvt. No.1

as Japanese Pvt. No.2

as Japanese Pvt. No.3

as Japanese Pvt. No.4

as Japanese Pvt. No.5

as Japanese Pvt. No.6

as Japanese Pvt. No.7

as Japanese Prisoner

as Japanese Prisoner No...

as Japanese Soldier

as Japanese Sgt.

as Japanese Officer No....

as Japanese Officer No....

as First Medic

as Second Medic

as Pvt. Floyd

as Marty Bell

as Second Lt. Gore

as Young Japanese

as Melanesian Walking M...

as Melanesian Villager

as Melanesian Woman wit...

as Melanesian Guide

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra

as Melanesian Extra
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Thin Red Line

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Critic Reviews for The Thin Red Line

All Critics (114) | Top Critics (29)

It's a genuinely epic ciné-poem that essentially sidesteps history, politics and conventional ethics to deal with war as an absolute, inevitable and eternal facet of existence.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

A haunting, scattered reminiscence piece, where the mind is allowed to drift through its memories, and retrieve impressions of the beautiful and the hideous, the serene and the hysterical, the banal and the profound.

January 1, 2000
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

A film of brilliant pieces and dazzling shots!

January 1, 2000
Top Critic

One of the most harrowing of anti-war statements, and the most beautiful too.

Full Review… | February 21, 2014
Movie Mezzanine

Lyrical, meditative and original, Malick's WWII film is one of the best war films ever made.

Full Review… | May 6, 2012

In the midst of life we may be in death, but the opposite is true as well.

Full Review… | October 14, 2011
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Audience Reviews for The Thin Red Line


Twenty years after making Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick emerged from hiding to write and helm this star-studded ensemble drama centered around the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.

And, true to form (for Malick, that is), this is and isn't a war film, or at least not entirely in the conventional sense. It's a war film on multiple levels, as we get man versus man, man versus nature, man versus himself, and perhaps a touch of nature versus nature as well. I can't remember. It's been a while since I've seen this.

I can't even begin to list the cast here, as it is quite long, but filled to the brim with man notable names. Some only appear for the briefest of moments, and others get quite a lot of screen time, even if they don't really say much, if anything at all.

As I've said before, Malick's films are all basically the same save for plot/story specifics and cast. They're all predominately shot (and shot superbly) outdoors, have great emphasis on visuals, lots of voice over narration, and are generally light on plot, but heavy on themes, going for a very abstract approach.

When the film does decide to be semi-conventional with things, it does a passable job with the history. Granted, it's mostly used as a backdrop for Malick's larger, broader, abstract picture, but it still maintains a level of care and knowledgeability of the subject and era.

If you like Malick, then this is a must see. If you favor artsy, visually stunning, but plot light dramas, then yeah, give it a look. If not, then you may want to watch something else.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

The WWll Battle of Guadalcanal is merely a backdrop for a look at the nature of men at a time when true nature purportedly reveals itself. Elegantly sublime and respectful, her beautiful imagery shocking because of what it takes to make us see it: somebody's got to die. There are no real "stars" here either, only moments all too briefly passed with faces we only begin to glimpse and then they're gone, all of us on a scary ride to who knows where.

Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

somehow this surrealistic rumination on nature (both phyical and psychological)manages to become the most real of war films. All of the grass level filming, where you can't really see the enemy... claustrophic and metaphoric at the same time. This is the zen of war - the film really puts you right there, letting you see all the casualties and conflicts and letting you decide which path you would take if you were "enlisted".

Fine performances abound, and I found Nick Nolte's Colonel Tall to be an awesome portrayal.

14 years have passed with this film, and I found it fun to see all the actors who just "show up" in cameo roles, like John Travolta and George Clooney.

My only real complaints about this film have to do with pacing and length. At 3 hours, there certainly was ample opportunity for some judicious editing (many a scene, especially the flashbacks and more surreal material, could have been shortened) - which would have given a tighter narrative; but even that wouldn't have covered the big "breather" that the film takes about 3/4 of the way through. After the hill is taken and Charly Co returns to base camp, the film loses all momentum dealing with the aftermath of the campaign, which makes the then repositioning of the company up river under new and incompetent command, seem a superflous tag - a feeling compounded by the sacrifice made by the film's narrator and "soul". Better if the film would have left out this portion of the film entirely and cut to the company leaving Guadacanal on the LCV.

Yet, in spite of these obvious missteps, the film is compelling, and its ruminations on the origin of evil and mankind's loss of harmony make this film a must see.

paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

The Thin Red Line Quotes

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