The Thin Red Line (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes

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 duty unit preparing for what will be the Battle of Guadalcanal. As Witt goes ashore in the company of his fellow soldiers, they meet diverse fates. Sergeant Keck (Woody Harrelson) is killed by an exploding grenade. Captain John Gaff (John Cusack) is an intelligent, sober leader facing the destruction of his command because his commanding officer Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) is bucking for a general's star. Sergeant McCron (John Savage) loses his mind. Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) gets a "Dear John" letter from his beloved wife. However, as the U.S. troops advance up grassy slopes toward entrenched Japanese positions, it is Witt's voiced-over ruminations on life, death, and nature that are the real heart and soul of The Thin Red Line (1998). Adrien Brody appears as Private Fife, the major character of Jones' novel and the author's alter-ego, although Fife has been relegated to a minor supporting role by Malick's filmed adaptation. ~ Karl Williams, Rovimore
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


Jim Caviezel
as Pvt. Witt
Ben Chaplin
as Pvt. Jack Bell
Elias Koteas
as Capt. James Bugger S...
Sean Penn
as First Sgt. Edward We...
Nick Nolte
as Lt. Col. Gordon Tall
Adrien Brody
as Cpl. Fife
George Clooney
as Capt. Charles Bosche
John Cusack
as Capt. John Graf
Woody Harrelson
as Sgt. Keck
Jared Leto
as Second Lt. Whyte
Dash Mihok
as Pfc. Doll
Tim Blake Nelson
as Pvt. Tills
John C. Reilly
as Sgt. Storm
Larry Romano
as Pvt. Mazzi
John Savage
as Sgt. McCron
Matt Doran
as Coombs
Don Harvey
as Becker
Gordon MacDonald
as Gordon/Earl
Felix Williamson
as Private Drake
Ben Hines
as Assistant Pilot
Kirk Acevedo
as Kirk/Guide
Randall Duk Kim
as Nisei Interpreter
Thomas Jane
as Pvt. Ash
Penny Allen
as Witt's Mother
as Melanesian Villager
Simon Billig
as Lt. Col. Billig
Mark Boone Jr.
as Pvt. Peale
Ken Mitsuishi
as Japanese Officer No....
Kazuki Maehara
as Japanese Pvt. No.1
Tomohiro Tanji
as Japanese Pvt. No.2
Kouji Suzuki
as Japanese Pvt. No.3
Ryushi Mizukami
as Japanese Pvt. No.4
Terutake Tsuji
as Japanese Pvt. No.5
Taiju Okayasu
as Japanese Pvt. No.6
Hiroya Sugisaki
as Japanese Pvt. No.7
Kengo Hasuo
as Japanese Prisoner
Kazuyoshi Sakai
as Japanese Prisoner No...
Takamitsu Okubo
as Japanese Soldier
Minoru Toyoshima
as Japanese Sgt.
Masayuki Shida
as Japanese Officer No....
Joe Watanabe
as Japanese Officer No....
Dan Wylie
as First Medic
Simon Lyndon
as Second Medic
Michael McGrady
as Pvt. Floyd
Miranda Otto
as Marty Bell
Steven Vidler
as Second Lt. Gore
Yasoumi Yoshino
as Young Japanese
Jack Warden
as Melanesian Walking M...
as Melanesian Villager
Polyn Leona
as Melanesian Woman wit...
as Melanesian Guide
Joshua Augwata
as Melanesian Extra
John Augwata
as Melanesian Extra
John Bakotee
as Melanesian Extra
Immanuel Dato
as Melanesian Extra
Michael Iha
as Melanesian Extra
Emmunual Konai
as Melanesian Extra
Stephen Konai
as Melanesian Extra
Peter Morosiro
as Melanesian Extra
Amos Niuga
as Melanesian Extra
Jennifer Siugali
as Melanesian Extra
Carlos Tome
as Melanesian Extra
Selina Tome
as Melanesian Extra
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Thin Red Line

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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– Submitted by Josh R (3 years ago)

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