One of the cinema's great disappearing acts came to a close with the release of The Thin Red Line in late 1998. Terrence Malick, the cryptic recluse who withdrew from Hollywood visibility after the release of his visually ... more »enthralling masterpiece Days of Heaven (1978), returned to the director's chair after a 20-year coffee break. Malick's comeback vehicle is a fascinating choice: a wide-ranging adaptation of a World War II novel (filmed once before, in 1964) by James Jones. The battle for Guadalcanal Island gives Malick an opportunity to explore nothing less than the nature of life, death, God, and courage. Let that be a warning to anyone expecting a conventional war flick; Malick proves himself quite capable of mounting an exciting action sequence, but he's just as likely to meander into pure philosophical noodling--or simply let the camera contemplate the first steps of a newly birthed tropical bird, the sinister skulk of a crocodile. This is not especially an actors' movie--some faces go by so quickly they barely register--but the standouts are bold: Nick Nolte as a career-minded colonel, Elias Koteas as a deeply spiritual captain who tries to protect his men, Ben Chaplin as a G.I. haunted by lyrical memories of his wife. The backbone of the film is the ongoing discussion between a wry sergeant (Sean Penn) and an ethereal, almost holy private (newcomer Jim Caviezel). The picture's sprawl may be a result of Malick's method of "finding" a film during shooting and editing, and in some ways The Thin Red Line seems vaguely, intriguingly incomplete. Yet it casts a spell like almost nothing else of its time, and Malick's visionary images are a challenge and a signpost to the rest of his filmmaking generation. --Robert Horton« less
David M. from WALKERTON, IN Reviewed on 6/9/2012...
Horribly bad and incredibly long. I would rather watch paint dry.
Skip this artsy fartsy junk. Easily one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I watched to the end and it was all bad.
With such a great cast of characters (some appear in only one scene) this should have been a great film. It wasn't.
Some great reviews must have been prompted by the fact that since they wasted three hours warching this they should write something positive.
I'll skip that bandwagon thank you.
0 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
The finest film of the 90's
josh brastad | Port Angeles, WA | 03/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Possibly the most powerful dramatic genre of film, war movies are never ignored. And in this day and age war films have certain expectations to become sucessful and praiseworthy: they must have a clear and evil villian, they must have an ideal GI hero, they must be provided with a sentimental patriotic score (John Williams the masses salute you) and most importantly war films must pack reassurance, a way to incorporate that killing is necessary, that war shuts out tyranny, and delivers strength to a country. (It doesn't hurt to flat out say the film's dedication is to the American men who saved the USA and ended the holocaust...aka Mr. Spielberg). Terrence Malick's 1998 war film "The Thin Red Line" was a terrible box office flop. On a 60 million budget the film made barely 10 million at the box office. It was the shadow that never existed at the 98 Oscars and many professional critics included such supposed millionaire movie judges like Roger Ebert, dismissed the film. The answer is simple, I see it every time I'm around a wide body of people: the film never pounds any answers into our heads like most three hour films (such as the recents films of Darabout, Spielberg, Cameron) "Line" is an essay, a poem, filled with questions and theory. In short we, in our stress-induced mocha fueled, cell phone powered lives want to laugh, want to cry, want to lean our heads against our spouse, and dwell in reassurance at a movie. We don't want to question.. The Thin Red Line is an anti-thesis toward war, war films, and the modern day pace of living. The film begins with Private Witt, a AWOL-ed transcendentalist who has found heaven on earth in the form of life among the natives of the Solomon islands. In this life, Witt finds no fear, thus he discovers immortality; to give yourself and die without a fear in your soul. Already, without wide realization, Witt has become one of the most unforgettable screen characters. He is the most intriguing character in a war picture since Col. Kurtz of "Apocalypse Now" and Hollywood screenwriters such as "American Beauty's" Alan Ball have recognized Malick's creation (just look at "Beauty's" character Ricky Fitts and his strong resembalance to Witt). The fact that so many critics have called Thin Red Line character's unfocused and bland is truth that the philosopical aspect of film is dying. The characters in Line are all original (much unlike the cliche roles of Spielberg's "Ryan"). Pvt. Bell discovers that lust and desire are interpreted in many forms, as his hearts contentness fades when his wife explains she could not withstand the wait for his homecoming. Sgt. Welsh's lonliness is only unbalanced by his kindness as he realizes that the image of one man can make a difference. ("If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours"). The confrontation between Col. Tall and Cpt. Staros give Malick's deliverance to Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" with his internal conflict between the soilder and the authoriy who orders death for the sake of ego. Possibly the greatest reason I award Malick's film as the decade's finest is because it's nothing short of revolutionary. It has much more in common with "2001: A Space Oddessy" than it does with "Saving Private Ryan" like most reviews compare. Both "2001" and Malick's film construct stances on humanity's present circumstance and idealism. Whereas "2001" stretched 50 years into the future to show how we destroy ourselves, "Thin Red" streches 50 years into the past. It poses the question: why do we fight one another? So simple a child could ask it, but no Harvard genius could even ponder to explain a right answer. Beyond all the polics and rich egoists, why do we even have enemies? Would the earth be a finer place without us? Does our ruin benefit the earth? In perhaps the most powerful cinematic scene of the 1990's American and Japanese soilders senselessly kill one another through fog, and destroy a village in mid-morning while many Japanese are having prayer. The battle is set to Hans Zimmer's detesting ballad "Silence". There are no heros no villians, just chaos coming to a climax. It ends with a brave monologue in the second person that speaks directly to the audience that clapped for "Ryan's" US GI's as they burned some Nazi's to death: "Is this darkness in you too?""
A very moving war film!
D. Litton | Wilmington, NC | 06/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Thin Red Line" had the severe bad luck of being released in the shadow of one of the most favored modern war films of all time, "Saving Private Ryan." Oscar buzz was all the rage for that film, which focused on the war in Europe as well as patriotism and courage. "The Thin Red Line" chooses to focus more on the human beings at war than the country or mission for which they are fighting. It dives deep into the subconscious of its characters, exposing their feelings in the face of battle and carnage. Though heavily stylized, director Terrence Malick knows where the movie is going, and takes it there in stride. Spanning a running time of just short of three hours, we're taken on a journey to Guadalcanal, where American troops are landing on the sandy beaches only to encounter a foe that, for a while, seems unbeatable. Their mission: to take over an airstrip and give America an advantage in the Pacific War. It is here that the characters are established: First Sergeant Welsh (Sean Penn), whose only wish is to lose all feeling for the events he experiences; Lt. Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte), obsessed more with his image than with actual victory; Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), a quiet, almost spiritual soldier with a soft yet firm heart; and Private Bell (Ben Chaplin), whose memories of his wife are what fuel his drive to fulfill his mission so he may return home. Like "Ryan," this film has intense images of graphic violence associated with war and battle. While Malick does not use the same technique as Speilberg, whose film is gritty and never without unsteady camera shots, his slow-motion captures, cut to the powerful score of Hans Zimmer, are just as moving and powerful. Scenes that stick out in the mind are the Americans' capture of a Japanese bunker on a hill, while their raiding of an enemy camp is one of the most moving pieces of cinematic masterpiece I've ever seen in any film. The second half of the film takes us to where the real focus of the movie has been all along. After their mission is accomplished, the regiment is given a week of rest, during which time each of the characters is given a chance to reflect on the experiences of the previous day. Some of them question their own existence in the face of such brutality, while others try to cope with the fact that they have committed murder. The movie is brilliant for its ability to separate one's feeling of victory with their latter realizations of the acts they have taken part in. One right after another, the movie brings out unheard of emotions that will stir even the hardest of cynics and critics. The images of war, people crying out for help, breathing their last, and just the frenzied, frantic bravura of it all is deeply moving, one of the best war portrayals to date. The psychological examinations are also very heartfelt, establishing the soldiers as characters, and more than mere pawns in a game of war. Each of them has a monologue that plays during the movie, their thoughts and feelings put into poetry for the screen. While the movie is particularly preferential in its choice of which characters deserve more screen time, the performances turned in by each actor are masterpieces in themselves. Penn is forceful as the hard yet movable Welsh, while Nolte is believably stern and unrelenting as Col. Tall. Ben Chaplin is perhaps the most emotional character, Private Bell, who is haunted by thoughts of his wife back home. And Caviezel is an incredible addition to the cast as Witt, whose simplistic view of the world sets the mood for some of the movie's most powerful scenes and monologues. Even those not partial to war films may favor the grandeur and spectacle of "The Thin Red Line." A stirring war epic and an intense journey into the mind are swirled into an engrossing movie that tugs at the heartstrings with such a grip you have no choice but to go along with it."
D. Litton | 06/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The same week I saw 'Saving Private Ryan', I saw 'The Thin Red Line'. I left the theater both times with the same reflective shock; silent for the drive home despite the questioning of my friends. In hindsight, I could have told you who would say what about these two films. 'Ryan' would attain wide commercial success, and 'Line' would be missed. Most, including anyone who reviews this film poorly, did not get it. This film is Video Poetry. In the same way that e.e. cummings would capitalize the letters R O U N and D through that wonderful poem about the round moon, the director laces the obvious bits of typical film (dialogue, acting) with constant thematic visual reinforcement. Man and nature are compared and contrasted. Just watch as the sun catches the blowing grasses in spectacular fashion before the field becomes a massacre. Our aims as a socitey are impeached. See the change in attitude between the native people and the formerly AWOL soldiers. There is an ugliness about it that you cannot help but feel. Something is intuitively wrong with everything going on, and the subtle suggestion of this fact is presented with difinitive dilligence. The sleeper of this film is the masterfully placed musical score- seamlessly woven through the fabric of tension and release- sometimes a backdrop, sometimes running thick over the dramatic action for reinforcement. Go buy the CDs- both are fantastic! I cannot believe that every soldier hazards the thoughts expressed in this film. Nor would I suppose it impossible that some in fact did. The war, however, is simply a device for the expression of some very valid points. If it makes you reconsider your preconceptions of what goes on in GI Joe's mind, all the better. If you are after an easily accessable night in front of the boob tube, go for Private Ryan. If you'd like something to think about for months to come, spend a few hours with The Thin Red Line."
This is the best American film of the decade.
Courtney Ann Lambert | 06/09/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Haunting score, stunning cinematography, superb acting, a theme worthy of great art -- this is a perfect film set in a war -- with truth, love, sacrifice, compassion, fear, hope, brutality and honour as subjects. As Gene Siskel said, this is the best war film ever seen. Unlike "Saving Ryan's Privates", this is no propaganda film. No easy answers, no flag-waving, no liberal "the Japanese are just like us" nonsense, either (here, the Japanese are fully human, and distinctly themselves). I was moved by the sometimes tender, sometimes gruesome truths revealed in the course of watching ordinary men in a hopelessly chaotic circumstance -- war -- as each strives to keep from crossing the thin red line into insanity. Malick stayed faithful to the excellent novels by James Jones, borrowing Prewitt from "From Here to Eternity" and blending him with Pvt. Witt from "The Thin Red Line" to give us Caviezel's central character, a man striving to serve his brothers, willing to kill if necessary and at the same time to be open to the pathos and horror that killing another man entails. Caviezel said he and his fellow actors felt like paint on a palette when working under Malick. The result is a wonderfully composed masterpiece which asks questions instead of giving pablum answers. Nolte and Penn give among their very best performances, the Nolte and Koteas dialectics are the stuff of great drama, and the post-skirmish pas-de-deux between Nolte and Cusack is unsurpassed -- intense, subtle, telling.The battle scene at the start of "Private Ryan" is stunning but ultimately it is pornographic -- we watch guys being blown up but we do so as voyeurs. In "The Thin Red Line", Malick's and John Toll's cameras place us in the midst of the men, the sea of grass, the bullets and shrapnel, the mud and gore, the birds and plant life, the thunder and smoke. We are deeply affected, not "entertained" or thrilled but stunned, jolted and transformed. Hans Zimmer's sometimes melancholy, sometimes poignant, sometimes uplifting but always unobtrusive score helps weave the fabric of this film into a fine visual, emotional, intellectual and auditory tapestry.Some critics bemoan the nature scenery -- well, Guadalcanal is a tropical island, that's where the battle was fought, and that's what the soldiers saw, get it? Some say the film was too long -- so, get an attention span, eh? Some don't like the voice-overs, which in fact serve masterfully to let us into the hearts and minds of those waiting to fight and waiting to die. Some were offended by the fact that GIs were portrayed as being concerned with profound questions about meaning, truth, hope, God. Guess what -- ordinary people actually ARE capable of thinking about such things when facing their own mortality. And our history is replete with poet soldiers -- Horace over two millenia ago for one, and James Jones himself at Guadalcanal. I, for one, am grateful for a film that dares to be a great work of art. Every time I've seen it -- and that's quite a few -- a fifth of the audience stays seated to the end of the credits, reverent, thinking, feeling, often weeping. Dozens of my friends from all backgrounds have gone back to see this film again and then again. This is a rare phenomenon, and like Malick's other films, will be more fully appreciated as the years go by. More than "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven", though, this film will be timeless."
As a war film buff...
Courtney Ann Lambert | Menifee, California United States | 03/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...I would say that this is easily the best WWII film ever made...and that's saying a lot considering the competition. Poetic storytelling, impressive battles, wonderful cinematography and great acting compliment this masterpiece."