The Thin Red Line Reviews
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.
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.
The story is based on the book by James Jones and follows a large group of soldiers and their experiences with world War II. But it mainly follows their mission to secure a hill held by the Japanese. This battle was called the Battle of Mount Austen and this is a depiction of the soldiers experiences during the battle.
The plot is one of the greatest and most incredible plot lines to a war film I have ever seen. Saving Private Ryan is my favorite war film of all time, but on terms of story I would say this is much greater in characterization and showing the true nature of a soldier. Saving private Ryan was better in plot and realism, but that is not to say I did not think this film had a bad plot. In fact it has a truly incredible storyline and was very realistic, but its true genius is in the characters and their different experiences they have and I just simply loved it. There is something very special about this story, something deep they are trying to teach us about the nature of the human soldier, and I learned very much about them from this incredible masterpiece.
The cast is a huge list of incredible performances and their really is no main actor because they all have their equal screen time and each did a incredible job. Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel, Woody Harrelson, George Clooney, John C. Reilly, John Cusack, Ben Chaplin, john Travolta, Nick Nolte, Tim Blake Nelson, and the rest of them were all incredible in my eyes and highly memorable. It actually is a pretty special thing that I am able to remember each character with their being such a huge cast, and that shows true greatness.
The war scenes shown were incredibly realistic and made this one of my favorite war films of all time. They do not use constant explosions to make this some weird Michael Bay war film that is cheesy and just their for cash. Terrence Malick works hard to make this a realistic and as close a depiction to the Battle of Mount Austen as possible. I simply loved the beauty and genius put into each scene.
The music is honestly one of the greatest scores of all time. Almost this entire film has just incredible music to lead on this story and its incredible characters. During the war scenes it felt as if I was watching a moving painting due to the art of the music and everything else, just simply beautiful.
The Thin Red Line is a film that is impossible to describe in a few words if you ask me. If you asked me what its about I will tell have to go on for like 5 minutes to describe the beauty and how it differs from other war films. This is not a movie just trying to give us a good time, its a movie trying to get a important point across to us. I believe that the point is that being a soldier will change you, it will teach you respect, the value of life, and the nature of true war. It is a magical film in a way, I just cannot explain the pure beauty in each scene, the genius in the characters, and incredible direction from a man who has shown us a war film that has never been done before.
The focus of the story shifts across a series of characters, but starts and finishes with Private Witt, played in an understated, subtle and totally captivating way by James Caviezel. There are also good performances from various characters that move in and out of the story, the most notable being yet more impressively understated performances by Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas. Other characters come and go, with a Nick Nolte offering a more visceral, aggressive but still absorbing performance as Major Tall. Other characters have nothing more than extended cameos, coming and going briefly, the most obvious ones being John Cusack, John Travolta, Woody Harrelson, Adrian Brody(who doesn't utter a word of dialogue in the movie!) and George Clooney. It is impressive to see Malick working with these actors to keep their performances very grounded and subtle, but totally absorbing. This is mainly due to Malick's supreme skills as a visual storyteller, and it is clear that he has lost none of his skill despite this 20 year break. He composes scenes with long duration shots that involve a lot of improvisation, and he requires his actors to tell a lot of the story with expressions, using significant amounts of voice-over that is clearly added later and also improvised. The telling of this very emotionally and psychologically involving story is hugely assisted by some tremendous technical contributions. John Toll's photography, Jack Fisk's production design and Hans Zimmer's score (which seems to have been composed as a series of suites rather that to specific cues in the action) all have huge positive impacts on the film, and take the experience of watching it to another level. While the film deals with war, Malick's approach to the violence is tactful and diplomatic, but still visceral. While the film has long stretches of characters mediating, philosophising and reflecting on their experiences these sequences never drag and the action sequences, when they come, are brilliantly directed, technically amazing, and hugely involving emotionally, making you feel what the characters are going through, rather than a more detached view of 'that was a big explosion!'. There is some tremendous crane and Steadicam work ( the latter by Brad Shield), and it shows that Malick is one of those few directors who understand how to use these camera processes in a way that integrates it into the storytelling, rather than as a problem solving tool to shoot certain sequences, or to show off to the audience. The only other director who uses these approaches this effectively was the late Stanley Kubrick.
There are some interesting inferences made in the film. There seems to be this subtext of the spirituality of life, as shown by the capacity of the wonderfully created natural environment to create harmony and peace, the more caring characters' appreciation of the natural environment, and the care of that some of the characters have for each other, including Captain Staros(played by Elias Koteas), and most notably the Private Witt character, who undergoes a transcendental experience through the story - there seems to a spiritual parallel here; and the questioning of the reason for this nonsensical violence by the some of the characters. Fascinatingly this is contrasted with the more brutal aspects of nature such as the fact that humankind is instigating violence on its own species. The selfish, personal motivations of Lt Colonel Tall's determination to achieve (who is driving the instigation of the violence, and points out his prospective brutal interpretation of nature during the film), the selfish barbarism of some of the US soldiers on their Japanese prisoners, and the individualistic motivation of the Mirando Otto's character towards her husband, played by Ben Chaplin, while he is bravely battling at the front. These 'Ying' and 'Yang' elements in the story seem to balance out very well, but even the characters who survive this story, all have scars to bear at the end. The only character who reaches inner peace and enlightenment is Witt, who of course despite his bravery and calm in the face of battle is essentially a compassionate pacifist.
These subtexts, as well as the tremendous polished nature of the filmmaking, means that providing you are patient, you will have a terrific experience watching this film. Furthermore you will still be thinking about the themes raised in this film long after you have finished watching it.
Overall, a wonderful experience from a genius of a filmmaker.
For my money, Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line is the best and most honest film about war ever made. This isn't an anti-war film in the vein of Stone's Platoon, or a Spielbergesque celebration of the men who epitomized Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."
It is a reflection on the role of violence in a world replete with beauty. Malick's film doesn't assign blame. For him evil is perception, evil is amorphous, evil just is. He does not exploit the glory some men find in war. He shows that war is not a place where men are made. But rather war is a place where valor wears thin and medals are merely consolation prizes.
I apologize if I am being too verbose, but this film defies a brief explanation and I am only scratching the surface of all that this film has to offer.
Malick brilliantly wavers between the macabre and the serene. His camera sweeps in and out of battle scenes which really captures the intensity of the war. It also stops to take a look around. Drinking in the breathtaking landscapes that the war will soon ravage. It also uses Malick's signature voice over narration to great effect especially in the scene when the Americans invade a Japanese village.
The film is accompanied by an amazing score by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer's score isn't overly ornate. It serves to build the already growing tension and is eerily absorbing. While I could sit here and extol all of the virtues of this film, it is something that needs to be experienced because it will leave an indelible mark on the viewer's mind.
Based on the WWII novel of the same name by James Jones, the story isn't linear but more fragmented and focusing on particular soldiers in the division of 'Charlie Company' and the struggle throughout their attempt to gain land against the Japanese at the island of Guadalcanal in 1943.
There is no main character, rather a collection of them, with their own personal philosophical ponderings and monologues on life, death, god, creation and the cruelty of nature which reflects their own struggle during the war and the brutality they have been thrust into. As Sean Penn's weary Sgt. says: "What difference d'you think you can make? One man in all this madness?", or Jim Caviezal's ethereal Pvt: "Maybe all men got one big soul everybody's a part of, all faces are the same man." Even the likes of Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke ended up on the cutting-room-floor and not getting a look-in with the impressive ensemble of actors. However, this is a film without any movie-stars, despite the names involved. John Travolta, John Cusack and George Clooney appear and disappear, reduced to mere cameo appearances and the likes of Adrian Brody and John C. Reilly hardly get a word to say. The cast alone shows the clout and attraction that Malick still has after being absent for decades. All these faces, among many others, coming and going all add to the confusion of war and several long, dialogue-free scenes, paint a dreamlike quality to the film.
Malick is methodical in his direction but still very capable of handling explosive battle scenes and conveying the torture and terror of the soldiers' suffering amongst the carnage, aided no end by John Toll's gorgeous, visually striking cinematography.
This modern masterpiece was shamefully overlooked come award season and over-shadowed by "Saving Private Ryan" on it's release - which is unfair, as they are very different films and this is just as good, if not better, than Spielbergs take.
It's a poetic war film, if that were ever possible. A rich, meditative and complete work of verbal and visual artistry. Simply superb.