1990s The Thin Red Line (1998)

Published on March 11th, 2008 | by Chris


The Thin Red Line (1998)

Reviewed by:
On March 11, 2008
Last modified:October 6, 2012


I still just don't get it. It's long, and at times dreadfully dull, even when you realize it's supposed to be, and you're supposed to be thinking, but you're not sure about what....

The Thin Red Line (1998)1998's The Thin Red Line takes us to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.  Based on the novel of the same name by James Jones, its a long and arduous journey into...

...well I'm still trying to figure that out.  The Thin Red Line is a visual masterpiece, I will give you that.  But there is more here than a few pretty pictures and excellent camerawork, but I'll be damned if I have any sort of grasp on it.

There are a few separate plots going on here, the one we are shown at first is that of Private Witt (James Caviezel), who has gone AWOL to live among the natives.  He's discovered, and thrown back under the command of 1st Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn), who ships him off to be a stretcher bearer, as a disciplinary measure.

Witt's story I think is central to the movie.  I keep saying "I think" because from where I sit this picture doesn't have a clear "story" per se.  Rather a message.  I've read some interpretations of it, and they sound good.  While I've not read the book either, you come away with one clear feeling.  The notion of the soldier as the "property" of the state, and that as that property you are nothing.  Maybe its just my own cynical nature impeding on the true message, but I get that.  Especially when one of them grabs a handful of dirt, as they're trying to take the hill, and proclaims "this is all we are."

And there is another one that I see, which is the duality present in war.  The horror and terror that goes on in the face of the beauty of nature.  The natives on the island really don't seem to care what's going on around them.  It doesn't matter to them in the long run, they are a part of that nature, and it's not going to change no matter what.

There is also an exploration of where the different aspects of human nature, such as love, and hate (aka war) arise from.  I think that there was a good attempt at this, but it just came across as disjointed and somewhat confusing.  "Out of nowhere" would be a good way to describe these parts of the film.

Er, oh yes, back to Witt.  Well, um.  He disappears for a while after that, during the initial incursion on the island.  This part of the movie actually isn't that bad, and really comprises the only real military action of the film.  Really the "battle" is its own little film tucked inside of "Red Line."

You've got the frustrated Lt. Col Tall (Nick Nolte) who continues to order his men to certain death to take a Japanese bunker.  There's the equally frustrated-at-Tall Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas), who defies Tall's orders....  And the squad who eventually takes the hill, led by Capt. Gaff (John Cusack).  This action paves the way to eventually overrun the Japanese camp, which is (in keeping with the nature of the film) at the same time a terrible, horrible look at humanity, beautifully choreographed against an equally beautiful piece of baroque classical soundtrack...

Taken out of context, this "act" of the film is really quite brilliant.

...and then, when its over, you realize that there's still an hour left in this picture.  From there it diverges into the same old same old.  Lots of gorgeous shots of the jungle, the nature, the wildlife.  Lots of narration and "thinking out loud" on the part of Witt and a few of the others.

Also keep an eye out for a myriad of cameos, such as George Clooney and John Travolta.

I don't know.  I saw The Thin Red Line once not long after it was first released, and didn't much care for it then.  Now, with a few more war movies under my belt I think I have a stronger grasp on it, but I still just don't get it.  It's long, and at times dreadfully dull, even when you realize it's supposed to be, and you're supposed to be thinking, but you're not sure about what....

Still, given the excellent vision, and the brilliant second "act" of the film I'm going to rate The Thin Red Line with a fairly high, and probably generous seven.

The Thin Red Line The Thin Red Line
List Price: $9.77
Sale Price: $4.83
You save: $4.94 (51%)
  Eligible for free shipping!
Availability: Usually ships in 1-2 business days


A powerful frontline cast - including Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson and George Clooney - explodes into action in this hauntingly realistic view of military and moral chaos in the Pacific during World War II.

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Brand: Penn
Manufacturer: 20th Century Fox
Original Release Date:
  • Jim Caviezel
  • Sean Penn
  • Nick Nolte
  • Elias Koteas
  • Ben Chaplin


Robot Check

Enter the characters you see below

Sorry, we just need to make sure you're not a robot. For best results, please make sure your browser is accepting cookies.

Type the characters you see in this image:

© 1996-2014, Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates

The Thin Red Line (1998) Chris

Summary: I still just don't get it. It's long, and at times dreadfully dull, even when you realize it's supposed to be, and you're supposed to be thinking, but you're not sure about what....


User Rating: 0 (0 votes)

About the Author

I’ve been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I’ve been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top ↑
  • Archives

  • Subscribe via E-mail!

    Get notifications, exclusive contests and offers, and more!
    * = required field
  • More War Movies

  • Recent Comments

  • Facebook