Review: The Thin Red Line (1998)

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A war epic that really isn’t a war epic.

Screenplay By: Terrence Malick
Directed By: Terrence Malick

The Thin Red Line shows the visceral nature of war, but it also shows the philosophical nature of the men involved in war. It doesn’t paint war as glorious or heroic, but as men that are doing a job they don’t want to do, want to do too much, or in some cases refuse to do. The inner musings of these soldiers are played out against the overriding theme of nature and man’s place in nature. If we have now tamed the crocodile then aren’t we dangerous beasts to be wary of? The Thin Red Line asks questions such as this, and it doesn’t give any easy answers. It leaves it up to the viewer to look within themselves and find their own answer. This type of film making isn’t for everyone, it is very existential and drawn out, but it is an experience for the mind and the soul if you have the patience to devote your time to it.

The battle scenes are handled in superb fashion, as is the narrative style of jumping from soldier to soldier and not allowing any of them to grow as characters. The soldiers as individuals aren’t the point of the story so they can’t be seen as individualistic. The soldiers blend into one another because they all share the same problems and they all ask the same questions and come up with very different answers. The actors manage to work well within the style that Terrence Malick wants. There is a sense of dissonance between what the movie is espousing and what the actors are trying to get across. One is going for surreal and contemplative while the other is going for realistic and straight forward. Yet, somewhere in the middle they meet and those very different approaches mesh to give The Thin Red Line a distinct feel that separates it from other war movies. Finally you have the breathtaking cinematography and camera work that allow for the philosophical musings and real time war to fuse together in very kinetic fashion.

The Thin Red Line isn’t without its faults. The narrative and philosophical musings can and do reach too far at points. Mr. Malick falls into the pattern of holding onto a shot of the open glades for longer than he should when he wants the audience to think about what is happening. But mostly, the inclusions of actors like George Clooney and John Travolta seems false. Their presence works against their characters because they are such big name actors that they seem out of place in such small roles. They are distracting in that way and make you wonder why they were ever cast in the first place.

The Thin Red Line is a surreal experience and it is one that needs more than a single viewing to be completely absorbed. It is an essential view for any fan of Mr. Malick or for anyone that is into movies that strive to ask important questions about war, man’s place in the world and god. Maybe those topics aren’t for you, but I would still recommend The Thin Red Line if for no other reason than it’s a completely different take on the war film.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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2 responses to “Review: The Thin Red Line (1998)

  1. Great review. Just watched it myself. You are spot on!

    Like you say, this one isn’t for everybody. I never found myself bored, but I never found myself connecting with the narrative poetry very often either. Sometimes it went on a little too long, and other times I was too distracted by what I was seeing to take it all in. Like you say though, it’s not a single viewing sort of movie. As it stands right now, it’s a 3/4 stars sort of movie for me.

  2. It’s interesting, the more I think about this one, and the more Malick I watch, the more I am digging his visual poetry. I don’t want to say it’s an issue of understanding, but I do feel that I now have a better grasp on Malick’s aims.

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