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The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line
Review written by: Alex Sandell

What's the story?

An Army Rifle company calling themselves C-for-charlie fight internal and external battles during World War II while trying to take control of a heavily guarded hill from the Japanese in the battle of Guadalcanal.

So how is it? (Get to the point, already)

Where "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon" were both one man's viewpoint on the Vietnam war and "Saving Private Ryan" was the story of a handful of men searching for one, "The Thin Red Line" is a film of every man and his quest to keep the people around him alive. It weaves through a tapestry of dozens of men's thoughts, actions and emotions without focusing in on any of them. Instead, it melds everyone together into a gigantic collective where the varying opinions add up to one powerful, but flawed, "soul".

Director and screenwriter, Terrence Malick, a Hollywood recluse who left filmmaking for nearly 20 years after creating two classic films during the 1970s, has turned the second World War into a poem. He finds beauty hiding under the surface of the grotesque, emotion tucked safely away in those who claim to be emotionless, and a heart beating freely within a gigantic chest-cavity which should have been locked for all time. The results are stunning.

The camera weaves through the long grass like a snake as the soldiers work their way to the top of the hill. As it passes over their heads, we hear some of their thoughts, we witness their actions and we see how the two oftentimes conflict. In one scene, a single butterfly enters the film, only to disappear seconds later. A lot of the actors follow the butterfly's lead.

Nature plays the biggest part in "The Thin Red Line"; everyone else, whether a big star such as John Travolta, or a virtually unknown actor like Dash Mihok, are stuck in supporting roles. When they're gone, they're gone, but nature moves on, as it has always done, never stopping to worry about what it just lost. Does this make nature inherently evil? As a part of nature, is that evil inside of us? If so, one of the more philosophical soldiers wonders, who planted the seed?

And that's where the trouble begins. There has never been a perfect war movie. Each one stumbles over its own ideologies and/or pretensions. "The Thin Red Line" is no exception. Most of the thoughts and philosophies spewed out during the film sound contrived and juvenile; tired and weak. We've heard all this before. I don't know if this was intentional on the part of the screenwriter (trying to emulate the way a young man under tons of pressure would try to make sense of it all), or if he just eats lots of fortune cookies and needed somewhere to throw out these wonderful observations found inside the sugary shell. Surprisingly enough, another negative aspect of the film were the cameo roles played by John Travolta, George Clooney and Woody Harrelson. Having noticeable stars popping in and out of the movie distracted us from the point it was trying to make, and the parts could have been played just as easily by an unknown. Finally, at nearly three hours, the film is too long. Malick seems to lose his sense of direction during the last forty-five minutes, and begins to wander aimlessly from scene to scene, not knowing quite when to end the film that began as a classic.

That being said, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and with the wonderful directing, acting and cinematography which was already in place, it would have taken just a little more work to make "The Thin Red Line" the perfect war movie that a lot of people have been waiting for. As it is, it stands as a brilliant film and one of the best war movies ever made.

What does it make you feel like eating?

Fortune Cookies

What are you selling us here???

The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is so wonderfully done, I don't know how anyone could resist picking it up on CD. Otherwise, there are no product placements, unless you want to buy a pair of combat boots after seeing it, or something.

If it won an Oscar, what would it be?

"Best Picture of the Year" - The Thin Red Line (Hey, it is one of the best of the year, and if it's this or "Saving Private Ryan", I'll take this in a heartbeat.)

On a scale of 1-10?


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Text (Copyright) 1998 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. If you copy this, without my permission, or even copy the "juicy" format, we'll be in court longer than Bill Clinton!

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