1990s The Thin Red Line (1998)

Published on March 11th, 2008 | by Chris

0

The Thin Red Line (1998)


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Rating:
3
On March 11, 2008
Last modified:October 6, 2012

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....

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
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Description

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,SEAN/NOLTE,NI
Manufacturer: 20th Century Fox
Original Release Date:
Actors:
  • Jim Caviezel
  • Sean Penn
  • Nick Nolte
  • Elias Koteas
  • Ben Chaplin

Reviews

Customer reviews
Average Customer Review

51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen., May 20, 2013
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When my Mother passed away, it was a shock, and I was very confused and frightened. I had no idea how to handle it or how I was even supposed to feel. I had a lot of sadness, and I didn't know what to do with any of it. The first time I ever saw The Thin Red Line was one week after I lost my Mother. The Thin Red Line is a war film, but it is an art film above all else. The Thin Red Line is 'a thought-provoking mediation on man, nature, and violence'. I had no idea what I was in for.

One of the very first pieces of dialogue is spoken by a character named Pvt. Witt.

He says, "I remember my mother when she was dying, she was all shrunk up and grey. I asked her if she was afraid, she shook her head no. I was afraid to touch the death I seen in her. I couldn't find nothing beautiful or uplifting about her going back to God. I wondered what it'd be like when I died, to know that this was the last breath you was ever going to draw. I just hoped I could meet it with the... Read more
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cerebral Masterpiece, January 23, 2017
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This review is from: The Thin Red Line (Amazon Video)
Most war movies encapsulate run-of-the-mill plot lines and human trivialities, but The Thin Red Line departs from the bleak and overly commercialized blockbusters that most film-makers produce these days. The movie is less of a story about World War II and more of a Freudian analysis of conflict in general. In the movie, many soldiers struggle to face the bombs and explosions raining upon them. Some men spit with rage and throw temper tantrums while other men forget who they are. On the other hand, there are a few men who are loosely tethered - yet sensitive - to the events around them; they may be scared, confused, angry, or entirely indifferent to the noise around them, but they have an unshakable grasp of their surroundings. This small demographic is one of those psyches explored in the movie, but it is the most focal group.

The movie follows the intermittent musings of a calm and deliberate man aptly named Private Witt. As he traverses brush and jungle foliage, he... Read more
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Malick's best!, March 15, 2015
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The First time I saw the Thin Red Line, I hated it. I was expecting another Saving Private Ryan. I then watched it a second time and saw a completely differently movie entirely. I also believe that this is Malick’s best film. While the film favors some characters more than others, it is a film that doesn’t really have a main star. It looks at different personalities and looks at emotions rather than following a central narrative. It is simply gorgeous to look at, and it is really a movie that takes a philosophical look at war and its effects on ordinary people (and how people react differently to it) and the film accomplishes this without getting too preachy or too melodramatic. I love films that leave interpretations up to the viewer.
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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....

3.5


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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.



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