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The Thin Red Line (1998) – Movie Review

Thin Red Line

Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick, based on the novel by James Jones
Starring: James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better acted piece of overblown, pretentious, self-important cinema in my life. Also for the record, I have never seen a film more in need of an editor…in my life. Let me try to summarize this monster for you. It’s World War II, and you’re at Guadalcanal. Private Witt (Caviezel) has gone AWOL again only to be given a second chance by Welsh (Penn), a first sergeant. He is a member of Charlie Company, led by Capt. Staros (Koteas), who is getting his ass chewed out perpetually by Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nolte), who is in turn busy kissing the ass of a brigadier general (John Travolta). In the meantime, we have Private Bell (Chaplin), who is pining for his wife (Miranda Otto). Somewhere else in there we have a bunch of other soldiers who I can’t remember (98% of the cast) and a bunch of people who did have roles but were edited out (name any actor in Hollywood). Confused? Good. I don’t feel so alone now.

[ad#longpost]This movie is almost three hours long and you feel every agonizing second. The war sequences were harrowing and perfect, giving a chance for actors all over the place to shine, especially Nolte’s red-faced screaming colonel and Koteas’ captain who actually cares about his men. Penn has some wonderful moments as well, the pessimistic soldier who doesn’t want to believe in anything beyond this world but can’t help risking his life to save a fellow soldier. When he tells Koteas off in the middle of battle, look out. Woody Harrelson has a great but small role as a badass sergeant. Dash Mihok gives a standout performance amongst the younger actors as Private First Class Doll, whose crazed antics during battle make him a hero despite his fear.

The problem is that more than an hour of the film is divided between random shots of flora and fauna and voiceovers containing poetic ramblings of the soldiers, all of which sound like the parts of Wings of Desire that Wim Wenders left on the writing room floor. Characters come and go and I had no idea who any of them were. I had to look up most of the names I reference up top. The other problem is that the film should have ended about twenty times before it actually did. As Bailey so aptly put it, Malick seemed like he was trying to get across eight or nine different points, but none of them came to fruition. Malick does seem to be able to get incredible performances from his cast, for which this film gets its only points, but what he does with those performances in the grand (and I mean grand) scale of the film leaves a lot to be desired.