The Thin Red Line * * * * *


Director: Terrence Malick.
Screenplay: Terrence Malick.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Dash Mihok, Adrian Brody, John C. Reilly, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Mirando Otto, Nick Stahl, Thomas Jane, John Savage, Kirk Acevado, Tim Blake Nelson, Mark Boone Junior, Don Harvey, Donal Logue, John Travolta, George Clooney.

After making “Badlands” in 1973 and “Days of Heaven” in 1978 (both to critical acclaim), Terrence Malick just disappeared from Hollywood but after 20 years and the masterpiece that is “The Thin Red Line”, it’s a real pleasure to have him back.

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 Spielberg’s 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.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker


2 Responses to “The Thin Red Line * * * * *”

  1. Wow, what a cast! I’ve definately got to see this film now.


    • The cast come and go Vinnie. A lot of them are mere cameos but the film’s is still and outstanding piece of work. The material overshadow’s all cast members, no matter how famous. Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas are the main players. All else are pretty much secondary.


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