The Thin Red Line (1998) (R)
"The Thin Red Line" has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time. It must have been months ago that I bought a special edition of the movie for a really cheap price and then fell into procrastination about watching it. The movie itself runs about three hours and after binging on epic movies like "Gone With the Wind", "Ben-Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia" back to back, it seemed like shorter comedies might be the best thing to watch for a long time. Then came "Seven Samurai" and "Doctor Zhivago" and "Bridge on the River Kwai"....needless to say I was ready for some lighter and absolutely shorter material. But today, I had a long break and "The Thin Red Line" was looking very lonely up on the shelf so I pulled it off, dusted it off, sat back, and hit play.
The movie starts when Pvt. Witt goes AWOL, adding on to his record of disappearing. He seems to live in the moment and appears to love to disobey direct orders. His commanding officer 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh decides not to court martial him and assigns him to help carry the body stretchers out to the battle field and bring in the wounded. He accepts the 'punishment' and tells Welsh that he's twice the man that Welsh is. Welsh just shakes his head and leaves the room.
Outside the men are getting wound up because the ship they're on is about to land.
"The Thin Red Line" is set during World War II, specifically around the time that the Americans tried to seize Guadacanal.
Terrence Malick's hand in direction I thought would be too much for a war movie. The random nature shots and the merciless editing (I presumed) would destroy the picture's integrity and the point. But if anything Malick's hand is exactly what this picture needed to succeed.
How can you just show a soldier's face and expect it to convey everything going through the man's head? Malick takes all the little thoughts and indescribable emotions that are whizzing inside a man's head during battles and somehow generates a way to show that to the viewer. It's stunning, bold, and wildly effective.
While war is horrendous and there was much more action then I expected from the philosophical director, those nature shots mean something else—war cannot stop life from continuing. While all this destruction and violence is happening, nature is finding a way to still thrive, it's surviving.
There are a host of interesting characters in "The Thin Red Line": a captain who is empathetic with his men, a lieutenant colonel who's wearing a thick facade, a private who pines for his wife, and a corporal who finds himself getting sucked into the thick of things.
Let me just sidetrack from the plot and the characters, I don't think that I could do either of them true justice—"The Thin Red Line" is a extraordinary film, one of the best I've ever seen.
It doesn't fall into the cliches that so many other war films do, it makes you empathize with both sides, but it's not too heavy handed with it. It doesn't linger on the enemy's side. It is an anti-war film, though. But instead of condemning the soldiers who fight (each and every character is relatable), the movie condemns the act of war itself.
War is an affront to nature—the thought that cries out constantly as the movie keeps rolling.
The philosophy throughout this movie is constant and you should expect nothing less.
The cinematography, as usually with Malick films, is marvelous and unparalleled.
The cast is sensational: Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Adrien Brody, John Cussack, Nick Nolte, Jared Leto, John Travolta, George Clooney, and Jim Caveizel.
Caviezel plays Pvt. Witt and he makes the best protagonist I have ever seen. He's such a dynamic force on the screen that it's hard to believe sometimes. He's enigmatic and simple all in one breath, it's a radical and breathtaking performance.
The movie itself is sensationally beautiful, but not only that, it has more coherence than the average Malick film. The voiceovers are tamed and necessary and the editing is spot-on. I am infinitely glad that I decided to watch it today, I will certainly be watching it again.
"The Thin Red Line" is a devastating picture. The best war film I've seen yet and maybe the greatest film ever made.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones