(US); 1998; Rated R; 170 Minutes
Jim Caviezel: Private Witt
Sean Penn: Sgt. Edward Welsh
Ben Chaplin: Pvt. Bell
George Clooney: Capt. Charles Bosche
John Cusack: Capt. John Gaff
Woody Harrelson: Sgt. Keck
Produced by Robert Michael Geisler, Grant Hill, Sheila
Davis Lawrence, John Roberdeau, George Stevens Jr., and
Michael Stevens; Directed and screenwritten by Terrence
by DAVID KEYES
Malick's "The Thin Red Line" represents somewhat of a dismal
act to the cinema. It's an anti-war film detailing the same
war as "Saving Private Ryan," yet it doesn't seem to be
about war at all. It's more about the basis of our actions:
how does war begin? How does it develop? When does it end?
Why do we subject ourselves to it? Malick doesn't seem to
be asking these questions directly, but in the way the picture
develops and provokes its subject matter, those seem to
be the questions on his mind. His movie tries to accomplish
that fearful task of revealing the answers to those difficult
questions by penetrating the themes through the minds of
the characters at war. In other words, he expects us, the
viewers, to answer the questions through what is shown on
anti-war films can sometimes stray from reality. Questions
that deal with the evil operating in nature and manhood
are difficult questions to begin with, and not everyone
has the same answers for them. Actually, there's no real
answers to any of them. Malick seems to believe that his
movie can try and reach some sort of understanding with
the material, and he has good intentions, but he doesn't
give his characters a chance to develop their own perspectives
of his questions. Each person in a movie like this should
have their own opinion about nature and the state of humanity,
but they aren't represented well in "The Thin Red Line"
for many different reasons. The main problem with his character
development is the fact that it gets sidetracked when the
movie tries to determine where it wants to go with the premise.
It intends to be a human war, but as it shifts from war
scenes in the tall blades of grass to character discussions
and then to the jungles of the film's location, the movie
makes it clear that it really has no idea of how it wants
to handle the themes. How do you convince an audience that
war is the cause of effects in nature? Do we give them opinionated
characters, or do we give them brutal war scenes and beautiful
cinematography? Terrence Malick apparently has trouble in
deciding which one is more effective.
his movie shifts between both and expects to grasp absolute
attention from the viewer. To an extent with the battle
scenes, it succeeds, but coming around to the characters,
the script does not let them develop individually. As a
whole, they are obviously an important asset in battle,
but in single form, what we get it a few minutes alone with
them to explore their personalities, and then they are thrown
to the enemy before we get a chance to appreciate them.
There are several walk-ons and voice-overs within the content,
but much of it is brief and underlying to the scripts grasp
on reality. Only a selected few characters can be seen throughout
the entire 170 minutes of the film, and even they have development
problems. That is, of course, with the exception of Sean
Penn's role as Sergeant Edward Welsh.
is an Oscar-calibre performance; one that should have the
Academy up from their chairs applauding Penn's acting talent.
They already gave him a nomination for "Dead Man Walking"
a couple of years ago, but for some reason, Nicholas Cage
was their favorite choice as winner. Here, he may have a
better chance, because he truly is a remarkable actor in
a remarkable role. Heck, he's not even the main character,
honor goes to Mr. Jim Caviezel, who plays Private Witt.
Based on the novel by James Jones, the movie opens with
him (he's an AWOL private by the way) and another army private
enjoying a brisk journey through the Jungles of Guadalcanal.
But that's sabotaged once both soldiers are captured and
war breaks loose between the army and the enemy on Guadalcanal's
thing that the film gets right is the neutrality of either
side of the war. The Japanese are portrayed without the
use of subtitles, and are therefore mapped out as an equal
cause of rivalry. Both sides of the battle have their own
values and reasons for going through the turmoil that is
war, and if an effective anti-war film can establish a motive
for disgracing the war itself, an enemy is redundant to
the situation. We operate in our own distinctions and with
our own beliefs. Malick's movie has managed to finally grasp
the notion that anti-war films are always and unfairly portrayed
with us as the winners. Antagonism is not the immediate
cause, and the movie knows that.
style and movement with the camera is more sharp and stunning
than that of, say, Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan,"
but that's basically it. While that movie concentrated on
the hard-core battles to carry over the subject of 'anti-war
films,' "The Thin Red Line" does two things at once, and
the script just hasn't been written strong enough to handle
a shame, too. Actors like John Cusack, Nick Nolte and Sean
Penn can be in outstanding movies (they have their share
of obvious evidence in the past), and even if you put all
of them into one film, they can still carry it out well.
Think for a moment about whether or not they could have
all succeeded in Malick's "The Thin Red Line." Oh, how well
we would have enjoyed these characters if the script allowed
us to examine them more closely.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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