The Thin Red Line

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I just watched this movie for the second time on tv, and in the afterglow of a good movie I just had to post a review here! The first time I saw it was when it came out in the cinema with a friend, but I didn't pay all that much attention to it. I remember thinking that it was a bit long-winded and on the "heavy" side (because it came out about the same time as Saving Private Ryan which was all action), but that it was still an ok movie.

Now I had the chance to just sit at home and watch the movie in detail. I've changed my verdict, it's not an ok movie, it's a great movie. I can really appreciate the horrors of war and everything that those men went through, and coupled with a great film technique the director draws this picture very vividly. I like how it focused on the insignificance and futility of our man-made conflicts, and how tiny and fragile we really are on the grand scale of things...It did a much better job of conveying this than Saving Private Ryan, which was all action and special effects with little emphasis on the story.

I haven't seen any of the "classics" of this genre recently, and I have to go back to re-watch them to make an honest comparison to TTRL (anything I've seen as a child doesn't really count because I can now look at it through different and more mature eyes). But in any case, this movie might go down as one of my favourite war movies, and if you haven't seen it you don't know what you're missing out on!

bigvalbowski's Avatar
Registered User

The Thin Red Line didn't come with the hype of Saving Private Ryan (a film I despised by the way), but it's a much better movie.

It's a director's film all the way. There are too many actors for the audience to ever root for. The inner monologues are interesting but often tedious. And some inept casting bring the film down a notch or two. You can't put Travolta and Clooney in such limited parts because most of the audience are expecting them to show up again.

Other than these complaints the movie was a minor masterpiece. Malick infuriates me because of his lack of output. Badlands is one of my all time favourite and Days of Heaven I can appreciate while not really enjoying it. I certainly admired TTRL though. The battle sequences are technically superb. Malick takes us to the front of the line. We see the anxious faces on both the Allied and Japanese faces. The climb up the hill is marvellously shot. It can't compare to Ryan's opening scene but it is still worthy of admiration.

The best moments come from the unknown actors. Elias Koteas, always supporting, gets almost a lead role here. He's often wonderful. Ben Chaplin's reminisces about his girlfriend give the movie its emotional spine. Nolte and Cusack's relationship is firey. For me though, the best sequences concern the soldier who plays with the native people. There is a war going on on their island. What did they do to deserve such scenes of hostility?

The film is less about a war against man and more about a war against nature. Men aren't born to fight. It's an unnatural, inconsquential thing to do.
I couldn't believe that she knew my name. Some of my best friends didn't know my name.

jamesglewisf's Avatar
Didn't see it.
I just couldn't get into it. Maybe I'll rent the DVD and give it another shot. Thanks for the review.
Jim Lewis
To BE or Not to BE, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barium Enema
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I just saw this strange moody movie. It felt contemplative to me. I didn't feel involved in the scenes of war. There was no feeling of threat even as I watched the tension on the faces of the Japanese soldiers as they stood ready for battle. The tone of the film was somehow distancing. Hans Zimmer's hypnotic score and the lush beauty of the island were far more than backdrops they seemed to me to be the main characters of the film as if both the carnage of war and the men's individual desires were beside the point. Implacable, oblivious Nature held sway.

I liked the voice overs and there poetic nature. They seemed to be the one handhold the viewer/listener was allowed to grasp the small and transitory concerns of men.
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May contain spoilers.

I have been thinking a lot about this movie recently, particularly about the relationship between the cynical guy played by Sean Penn and the mystical guy played by Jim Caviezel. After Jim dies, Sean says, "where is your spark now?" A line that really ticked me off. I wanted to flick him on the forehead with thumb and forefinger and say, "here's his spark, dummy!" What does cynicism make you bullet-proof? Cynical people get killed off just as easily as others. At least Jim's character was alive until he was dead and he was confronting the mystery that was headed his way like a big old freight train. His thoughts were often about death. He was not as avoidant as his AWOL status would lead us to believe and in combat he was often in the forefront as if he was eager to meet his destiny.

We first meet Jim living with some friendly island people. The scene in which he meets up with some not-so friendly island people--the implication of the visuals (a hesitant child and rows of skulls in a hut) is that they are head-hunters--implies that Jim's feeling about people and his sense of the world will change. Now that would have been interesting kill off the cynical guy, they are a dime a dozen anyway, and follow the spiritual and mental journey of the mystical guy as he comes to grips with the inherent violence of man. Does he become cynical? If not, how does he manage to keep his sense of spiritual well-being intact?

As for the head hunters, modern man has an atavistic, knee jerk response to such obvious signals of violence. We fail to see them in their cultural context. What would those outside our culture make of our penchant for violent movies and violent sport. We live in a death culture as much as they do. May be more so. We export it and are horrified and surprised when it shows up at our doorstep. Think 9/11. How a culture handles it's fear of death, tendencies toward violence and fear of the "other" and still keep it's "spark" may say more about it than it's penchant for beauty or peace. An interesting documentary, Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, about a man, Tobias Shneebaum, who lived with and revisits the cannibal tribe he once studied, addresses these issues. It is a fascinating film and I heartily recommend it.

The Thin Red Line was horrid. The cinematography was beautiful, and then they spoke. The narration wouldnt STFU long enough to even immerse you. The actors wasted with this supposed soul searching introspective of man and war. Oh what a stupidity this film was! Terrence Malicks the most overrated hack since Michael Bay. I mean that! If he had the confidence as a filmmaker to shut up his oppresive philosophical babble long enough to tell a story or really develop a character this would have been an epic.

Nobody talks about this crap film. Never comes up in conversation in real life. Im glad. It doesnt deserve to be in the company of Platoon, Private Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, and about every war movie based on true events ever made. With its nomination for best picture exposes the pretentious shallow perspective with influence in the industry. Do you really think in war soldiers talked like that? Do you?! Those boys were afraid to die, and babbling about the forces of nature never came up much.

I left the theatre, on my ticket stub, went to the poster, and stuck it right on. My friend was laughing at my hysterics as I bellered "The Thin Red Line sucks!" With the fear of families or just good people wasting their money and life on all that should not be in film. I actually tried rewatching it a few years later, but couldnt finish. The most pretentious movie ever made.

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I don't disagree with you about the result. But what you see as pretense I see as ambition. I think the movie may have been too ambitious and as a result the characters degenerated into stereotypes. Still it stuck with me and I really would have liked to have seen Caviezel's and Penn's relationship and POV elaborated upon.

I think only one character talks about the forces of nature. Caviezel's character is thinking about death and trying to humanize it and come to terms with it. Penn's character, the character of the lieutenant, and Cusack's character are thinking about pragmatic things, like how do I keep myself and others alive. The colonel is thinking about his career, Ben Chaplin's character is thinking about his reason for living, his girl, Adrien Brody's character is almost paralyzed with fear and one guy is thinking about the fieirce joy of killing with impunity. All plausible thoughts for a soldier to have.

I also believe the film keeps the viewer at bay in order to engender thought about the nature of man and war. I think the idea is for the viewer to think, not to lose oneself in an experience.

I am burdened with glorious purpose
May contain spoilers.

I have been thinking a lot about this movie recently, particularly about the relationship between the cynical guy played by Sean Penn and the mystical guy played by Jim Caviezel. After Jim dies, Sean says, "where is your spark now?" A line that really ticked me off.
I took that line differently. I thought it one more thought on what war does to people. They die.

Wow, Tongo, wow! that was quite a rant.

I think it is amazing. I've seen it many times, and I think it is one of those films that you have to be in the mood for. It's contemplative. Poetic. It's almost like reading a novel if you ask me.

As to nature, well, I do take the film as an exploration of man's nature. Is it our nature to fight? Or is it our nature to see the futility in it? Why do we fight? Where does survival end and brute force begin? The characters are all different parts of ourselves and the conflict humans have with it.

I love Elias Kostas here, especially his scene with Nolte over the phone when Kostas (as Staros) says he won't send his men to die. I just love how Nolte yells at Staros!

I get why some think it is pretentious. Malick is just a rather odd director, imo.