The Thin Red Line

1998

Drama / War

Synopsis


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Cast

Jim Caviezel as Pvt. Witt
Sean Penn as 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh
Nick Nolte as Lt. Col. Gordon Tall
Elias Koteas as Capt. James 'Bugger' Staros
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1.00 GB
1280*544
English
R
English
23.976 fps
2hr 50 min
P/S 15 / 95
2.20 GB
1920*816
English
R
English
23.976 fps
2hr 50 min
P/S 18 / 63

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Rajiv Kapur (rogercom@albnet.com.br) 5 / 10

The most influential film of the 1990s

The "Thin Red Line" is not an easy film to understand. It uses one of the most complex narrative structures yet produced by cinema to tell three stories (yes, it DOES have a plot): 1) the one the book wanted to tell (the book's title comes from a 19th century allusion to the British Empire's infantry [red uniforms] whose small numbers managed to 'protect' the British ["civilization" from their point of view] from the countless hordes of "savages" which the Empire ruled (this concept is regrettably racist). James Jones used this analogy to tell the story of how young American soldiers with no battlefield experience become bloodied veterans. 2) the fundamental paradox of war: to protect "civilization" (all that we hold dear) we are prepared to send young men to fight in wars. We know that in war they will see and do things that will turn them into the very "savages" that we are trying to prevent from destroying our civilization. If you believe that there are things even worse in the world than war (genocide, rule by the Axis powers) then war is not irrational, but the paradox mentioned above exists. 3) man is not distinct from nature but a part of it. Therefore, nature is both beautiful and cruel. (Like our civilization and war).
To tell these stories Terence Malick used symbolic imagery, flashback, voice-overs, passages without dialogue, long close-ups of the actors' faces, changes in tempo and a haunting score.
For example, his use of symbolism has been much criticized but everything has a purpose e.g. the crocodile entering the green algae covered water (nature's savagery), the native man who passes the company, after they land on the beach, walking in the opposite direction apparently oblivious of their presence (their shocked and bewildered faces reveal how they are forced to question the relevance of the reasons for which they may shortly die - the defense of civilization), the tree being choked by parasitic vines ('nature is cruel' as Lt. Col. Tall so aptly puts it), the bird being born as a soldier dies (it was not dying as many people thought - "we come from the earth and return to it" as we hear in the voice-overs), dogs eating a human corpse ("dog eat dog" - the soldiers are becoming desensitized to the violence) the same crocodile, now dead, at the end of the film being carried away as a sort of trophy (danger has receded for the moment), the coconut sprouting a palm on the empty beach in the last scene (after death comes birth - the cycle of life). There are, of course, many, many other examples.
The use of flashback accompanied by voice-over to convey feelings as opposed to narrate a story must have appeared strange to anyone who never saw Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima Mon Amour". It was used most effectively with Ben Chaplin's character (Pvt. Jack Bell) when he thinks of his wife back home - incidentally he idolizes her in the same way we do our own culture - another metaphor. His disillusionment is profound and shows that what he was prepared to die for was only as pure as any ideal.
It is often say that there was no character development. This is also false. For example, in the scene where Sgt. Welsh is speaking to Witt shortly after his arrest for being AWOL , Welsh seems to claim that it is every man for himself when he says that individual sacrifice is worthless, there is no world but this one and that each man must get through the war the best that he can. However, we subsequently see him risking his life to deliver morphine to a MORTALLY wounded man during the frontal assault on the Japanese machine gun nests. Also, Witt can not understand where evil comes from in the midst of the beauty he sees in the Melanesian village, but when he returns there he sees man arguing, enemy skulls, crabs hideously crawling around on an outstretched human hand and a child's back covered with insect bites while those people around it are seemingly uncaring. These images suggest that evil is inherent in man.
Malick avoids the usual stereotypes. Although we see heroic acts (such as the taking of the machine gun nests by Capt. John Gaff's [John Cusack] team of volunteers), there are no recognizable heros. It is true that the characters are not sharply defined. When the violence comes it is against all of them i.e. all of US.
Are there then any relevant negative criticisms of the movie? I would say that it did not meander as some critics alleged (every scene has a purpose) but it was unnecessarily long. There is a certain irony in this. It is said that Malick edited over 100 hours of material first to 9 hours. Understandably the studio did not accept this. He then reduced it to 6 hours and then to 3. (This helps to explain the lightning appearances by John Travolta and George Clooney, I see no problem, however, with using big name stars in such short roles - Richard Attenborough did it in "A Bridge Too Far"). With so much cherished material available, I suspect that Malick fell into the trap of opting for the maximum length that the studio would allow when more artistically efficient editing would have reduced the film to 2* hours. The balance between the action and meditative passages would have worked better if certain scenes had been cut, such as Witt's passing a wounded soldier on the way back to his company after leaving the Melanesian village the second time and also the conversation that Witt and Welsh have towards the end of the film (Welsh appears a stranger to him, suggesting that he is simply a troublemaker). Even with the exclusion of these scenes Witt would still appear a humanist and Welsh a complex "every man".
Most people would agree that the film is visually stunning. As there has been very little even remotely similar in the past, it will be confusing for many people but I am convinced that this will come to be seen as a hugely important work - the most influential of the 1990s.

Reviewed by Dr. Donald G. Hedges (doctordon@home.com) 10 / 10

Every movie-goer sees his own film...


Having taken the time to read scores of reviews for TTRL (including IMDb ones here), I'm reminded of the movie subscript for this most controversial film: "Every man fights his own war." What a polarization exists amongst its viewers, and a lot of emotion both ways.

I was stunned, moved, transfixed and totally absorbed by this film, even more so on subsequent viewings. I was one of the considerable number of people who, as the credits appear, sit quietly till one has to leave -- still stuck in the film's experience. I'm not angry at others who merely fell asleep. It's odd how some of the film's harsher critics seem compelled to vent their anger in disparaging comments against those who loved it -- most of those who liked the film were gentler in commenting on its critics.

In contrast to what some have written, "The thin red line" has nothing to do with the British infantry in its imperial past. Jones referred to two related quotes in his excellent book, both having to do with a thin line between sanity and insanity. Whether "justified" or not, necessary or not, there is a lot of insanity in the war experience by anyone's definition of insanity.

War exists and seems to recreate itself -- I never got the idea from Malick's film that he was preaching that we should just stop having wars. On the contrary, he takes war as a given in the human part of nature, and shows how individual human beings variously adapted (or mal-adapted!) in order to be able to keep eating, breathing and, yes, killing. The war experience is not primarily about shooting and blowing things up -- as Jones described from his own experience, it's largely about what happens between skirmishes -- strife and comradeship, fear and bravado, homesickness and freedom from past constraints, and waiting to die or to see a buddy die. People came, died, and were replaced -- much as portrayed by the cameo appearances in the film that confused or upset some viewers. Veterans always talk about how hard it is when you have to rely on your buddies (and feel for them) even though odds are most of them will die.

What is most important to me (and it doesn't have to be for anyone else, I know that) is how the eternal themes of humanity are affected and expressed in such circumstances. All great works of art have something to do with the themes of beauty, pain, triumph, despair, good and evil. There's nothing wrong with entertainment as a diversion (The Matrix was fine fun); there's room both for film for fun and for film as art. Saving Ryan's Privates was mostly good entertainment (although I found it terribly manipulative and jingoistic), while TTRL explores the themes I mentioned above, never with easy answers. If you found the voice-overs heavy-handed, maybe it's because you're used to Hollywood telling us what to think and feel and thought Malick was doing the same. Watch again and see if he's not just giving us access to various individuals' often conflicting perspectives.

As for those who think the film portrays "our soldiers" in a bad light, my family members who fought in WWII described their experiences and their reactions much as those shown in TTRL -- they were ordinary men, decent enough people, not heroes though sometimes unpredictably capable of the heroic, and devastated by their experiences. I'm proud of them for having done all they could to do what they felt was their responsibility, and to keep some humanity intact in spite of the horror. None of them told me they felt "ennobled" by war; they endured it and were badly hurt by it but didn't feel sorry for themselves, either.

In TTRL I got to see this portrayed with such compassion I wept. Even the guy (Dale) who ripped gold teeth out of the mouths of dying Japanese soldiers was no stereotypical villain -- he has his moment of grace as do they all. No one's defenses are portrayed as impregnable, not even Witt's. No stereotype himself, we see him kill over a dozen soldiers in battle, while still trying to see God in the midst of the chaos. And what a powerful scene at his life's end, fulfilling his own striving for self-sacrifice, and recognizing in a moment of epiphany where his own immortality lie. Those who couldn't find a plot line in the film must have missed the first ten minutes...

Maybe it's because of my own experience in life that I respond to this film so strongly. I endured and survived ten years of intense, inescapable unrelenting abuse as a child. I remember even as a small child trying to make sense of it all -- looking for the good, the reasons, God's plan, my purpose. Others who've survived trauma (in the Holocaust camps, on the cancer wards) often describe how such experiences focussed their attention on things that matter, beyond the physical realities they could not control. Ever since my childhood I've moved through life with a second awareness -- that examination and self-examination while "real time" goes on.

That's what Malick portrayed, for me, in this film. Maybe you think that's "sophomoric" or "pretentious". It may not seem so when you're in the midst of a struggle, or on your death bed...

DGH

P. S. I organized a special screening of this film locally for a few friends -- 400 others paid to come, by word of mouth. Over a hundred sat spell-bound as the credits scrolled by -- hushed and not wanting to leave. Fellow wounded souls, some of them, I'll bet.

Reviewed by pmov 9 / 10

Malick's Heavenly War

This film is unlikely to be appreciated by audiences reared upon a diet of dumbed-down Hollywood action fare. However, if you're prepared to sit down and watch THE THIN RED LINE with no interruptions and give it the attention it deserves, you'll be rewarded with one of the most intelligent, poetic and stunningly beautiful films you're ever likely to see.

Director Terrence Malick's films are alive with a sense of pure cinema with every frame delivering such detail and richness that you could swear you were there. The only other person capable of bringing such an immediate sense of time and place and sheer nuance of film (although in a completely different way) is David Lean, another major league craftsman.

Here, again, Malick uses his customary voice-over device although this time as a means of vocalising the abstract thoughts of the various soldiers as they struggle to make some sense of the conflict. It's an interesting approach which allows the audience to identify with the characters in a far less superficial way than in, say, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (the film THE THIN RED LINE is most often and most unfairly compared to). Malick is also not afraid to take time to illustrate the continuing natural backdrop to the carnage. Mother Nature almost seems to be occupying a pivotal supporting role as a detached observer on the sidelines, calmly and inscrutably watching the chaos develop.

It's a measure of Malick's complete disinterest with the normal conventions of Hollywood that actors such as Lucas Haas, Vigo Mortensen, Jason Patric, Mickey Rourke, Martin Sheen and Billy Bob Thornton all spent months in Queensland Australia and the Solomon Islands filming roles that ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. Blink and you'll also miss major marquee players such as John Travolta and George Clooney. The stand-out performances come from Jim Caviezel and, especially, Nick Nolte.

Nolte just seems to be getting better and better as he gets older and his portrayal of tyrant Colonel Tall is something to see. I have never seen anyone express such an impotent sense of rage, anger and fury than Nolte does here. It's a fantastic performance from a real pro and it's a mystery to me why he didn't get an Oscar.

John Toll's pristine cinematography and Hans Zimmer's wonderfully evocative (Oscar-winning) score are other strong elements. The unusual music and visuals contrast so well that Malick sometimes fades out the noise of the shouting, explosions and guns, an effect that only serves to heighten the emotional power of the experience further.

You won't see a more beautiful film about the horrors of war. Movies like this make the task of trawling through the weekly diet of dumb formulaic junk served up by Hollywood almost seem worthwhile.

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