The Thin Red Line (1998) 4.79/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 76.5
Genre: War
Duration: 170 mins
Director: Terrence Malick
Screenplay: Terrence Malick
Stars: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, George Clooney

Fascinating introspection at the mental landscape of war and man’s natural or unnatural relationship to it. The Thin Red Line is very much an ensemble piece with an array of Hollywood A-listers all lining up to participate in Malick’s take on the WWII pacific theatre. There are many standout performances but Jim Caviezel’s overshadows all of them. There’s an untidy serenity to it which, though sounding like and oxymoron, is exactly the type of enigmatic quality the film needed at its centre. Malick chose well.

John Toll’s cinematography is intuitively informed by Malick’s perspective but while the visuals are in general deeply arresting, they are no more so than the use of sound in this film. The sounds of nature, man, woman, and child which Malick has always seemed attuned to like nobody else, gently come to the fore here to contextualise the narrative in their own way. Hans Zimmer provides a perfect score (perhaps his best) which lifts the film at crucial junctures and it is intricately involved in the movie’s crowning moment (in fact this score now counts as one of the many wonderful pieces of music which Zack Snyder has “borrowed” to give his trailers at least an overt sense of depth).

The decision to shoot the movie from the individual’s perspective was a brave one because it diverges from the traditional film-making template significantly. However, not only does it provide a platform for a more honest account of what soldiers go through, it also elevates the action to a level of reality beyond that of a typical war movie. The Thin Red Line came out in the same year as Spielberg’s WWII feature Saving Private Ryan, and while the latter received much praise for its realistic opening sequence, it really doesn’t touch the former in honesty or perceptiveness. The Thin Red Line is a triumph in that regard and while that may displease more mainstream movie fans who have set expectations from a war film, it will should excite those who want to see the envelope pushed further back.

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