251 of 278 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2001
The same week I saw 'Saving Private Ryan', I saw 'The Thin Red Line'. I left the theater both times with the same reflective shock; silent for the drive home despite the questioning of my friends. In hindsight, I could have told you who would say what about these two films. 'Ryan' would attain wide commercial success, and 'Line' would be missed. Most, including anyone who reviews this film poorly, did not get it. This film is Video Poetry. In the same way that e.e. cummings would capitalize the letters R O U N and D through that wonderful poem about the round moon, the director laces the obvious bits of typical film (dialogue, acting) with constant thematic visual reinforcement. Man and nature are compared and contrasted. Just watch as the sun catches the blowing grasses in spectacular fashion before the field becomes a massacre. Our aims as a socitey are impeached. See the change in attitude between the native people and the formerly AWOL soldiers. There is an ugliness about it that you cannot help but feel. Something is intuitively wrong with everything going on, and the subtle suggestion of this fact is presented with difinitive dilligence. The sleeper of this film is the masterfully placed musical score- seamlessly woven through the fabric of tension and release- sometimes a backdrop, sometimes running thick over the dramatic action for reinforcement. Go buy the CDs- both are fantastic! I cannot believe that every soldier hazards the thoughts expressed in this film. Nor would I suppose it impossible that some in fact did. The war, however, is simply a device for the expression of some very valid points. If it makes you reconsider your preconceptions of what goes on in GI Joe's mind, all the better. If you are after an easily accessable night in front of the boob tube, go for Private Ryan. If you'd like something to think about for months to come, spend a few hours with The Thin Red Line.
130 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2010
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
I already loved the film, so waited so patiently for Criterion to come out, as it simply HAD to come out, with a definitive edition. I read and posted on the various fora, sent the emails, re-tweeted the enigmatic and happy Twitpic that Criterion posted, jumped all over the Criterion newsletter when they came out with their gnomic icon confirmation. I got the Blu-Ray the day it dropped, and have spent the subsequent couple days in a kind of reverie. I just watched the film -- which is, full stop for effect, absolutely STUNNING in Blu-Ray. Every technical aspect, from the color to the surround-sound (I so love the use of Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question" in the middle of a battlefield atrocity), is reference-quality AWESOME. I've yet to experience the commentary, but I've watched the insightful feature on James Jones and the novel from his daughter and listened to the chants; there's still the 15 deleted scenes and the wartime newsreels on Guadalcanal to go through, plus some other extras I'm sure. The essay is wonderful. If you think you experienced a religious ecstasy the first time you saw The Thin Red Line, just experience it again on this Criterion Blu-Ray and undergo true cinematic rapture.
** UPDATE ** I've watched all of the extra features, which are uniformly insightful and superb.
Commentary: This is by cinematographer John Toll, production designer Jack Fisk, and producer Grant Hill. Criterion commentaries are usually of three breeds, I find: hit-or-miss commentaries by film scholars (Peter Cowie's Bergman commentaries would be hits, the dull "you see the door in that shot? that door represents an opening" commentary on Solaris would be a miss), idiosyncratic commentaries by directors (Edward Yang, Jim Jarmusch), and then incredibly detailed production commentaries by people who worked on the production (The Last Metro, both Malicks). I like the director commentaries the most, since they usually combine both interpretation and production stories. The Thin Red Line commentary is completely about the production of the film, suffused with an almost worshipful regard for Terrence Malick. I found it a little dry. I would've liked discussion about, say, the poetry of the film -- the beautiful scene of Witt's mother dying, for example, which is like a Renaissance painting. Instead you hear that that scene was one of the last ones filmed.
Actors: An almost 30 minute featurette, featuring interviews with Sean Penn, Kirk Acevedo, Thomas Jane, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok and Jim Cavaziel. I didn't find this particularly interesting; the actors uniformly fawn over Malick's genius and basically congratulate themselves for participating in the film.
Casting: A twenty minute featurette with the casting director, Diane Crittenden, featuring many audition tapes. Pretty interesting to see now well-known actors audition in the beginning of their careers (Nick Stahl, especially). Thomas Jane was quite the rockabilly.
Music: Hans Zimmer talks about his ambitious (he calls it "pretentious") ideas for the soundtrack of the film, particularly the idea that the music "should keep asking questions." I didn't realize that Zimmer had done the thoughtful music for Thin Red Line: it's so different from the sonic bombasts he's been doing lately.
Editing: Malick's team of editors, Billy Weber, Leslie Jones and Saar Klein discuss their work on their film. I found this feature to be the most interesting of the lot, particularly their discussion of how Malick pared the original 5-hour cut of the film (which, according to them, was plot-heavy, expository and filled with dialogue) into its current form, which is essentially a silent film layered with voiceover. Apparently Malick watched the assemblies with the soundtrack out, listening instead to Green Day. Who knew Terrence Malick liked Green Day?
Deleted Scenes: These fourteen minutes of deleted scenes show what a different movie The Thin Red Line could have been: they're basically straightforward dialogue and action scenes, with little or no voiceover or music. One of the events that actually happened to James Jones that he put into the novel -- he was surprised by an enemy soldier while taking a crap, and managed to kill him -- turns out to have been filmed after all. Another scene shows George Clooney displaying some fine actorly chops.
Kaylie Jones: James Jones' daughter talks about her father and the writing of The Thin Red Line in an illuminating featurette.
Newsreels: Ten 2-minute newsreels from 1942 talk about the American involvement in the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal in an incredibly gung-ho, Celebrate Our Boys fashion. It's an amazing counterpoint to the film.
Melanesian chants: Audio-only feature on the native chants used in the film.
Trailer: Watch this after you've seen the film, since like most trailers it completely gives everything away.
128 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2001
"The Thin Red Line" had the severe bad luck of being released in the shadow of one of the most favored modern war films of all time, "Saving Private Ryan." Oscar buzz was all the rage for that film, which focused on the war in Europe as well as patriotism and courage. "The Thin Red Line" chooses to focus more on the human beings at war than the country or mission for which they are fighting. It dives deep into the subconscious of its characters, exposing their feelings in the face of battle and carnage. Though heavily stylized, director Terrence Malick knows where the movie is going, and takes it there in stride.
Spanning a running time of just short of three hours, we're taken on a journey to Guadalcanal, where American troops are landing on the sandy beaches only to encounter a foe that, for a while, seems unbeatable. Their mission: to take over an airstrip and give America an advantage in the Pacific War. It is here that the characters are established: First Sergeant Welsh (Sean Penn), whose only wish is to lose all feeling for the events he experiences; Lt. Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte), obsessed more with his image than with actual victory; Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), a quiet, almost spiritual soldier with a soft yet firm heart; and Private Bell (Ben Chaplin), whose memories of his wife are what fuel his drive to fulfill his mission so he may return home.
Like "Ryan," this film has intense images of graphic violence associated with war and battle. While Malick does not use the same technique as Speilberg, whose film is gritty and never without unsteady camera shots, his slow-motion captures, cut to the powerful score of Hans Zimmer, are just as moving and powerful. Scenes that stick out in the mind are the Americans' capture of a Japanese bunker on a hill, while their raiding of an enemy camp is one of the most moving pieces of cinematic masterpiece I've ever seen in any film.
The second half of the film takes us to where the real focus of the movie has been all along. After their mission is accomplished, the regiment is given a week of rest, during which time each of the characters is given a chance to reflect on the experiences of the previous day. Some of them question their own existence in the face of such brutality, while others try to cope with the fact that they have committed murder. The movie is brilliant for its ability to separate one's feeling of victory with their latter realizations of the acts they have taken part in.
One right after another, the movie brings out unheard of emotions that will stir even the hardest of cynics and critics. The images of war, people crying out for help, breathing their last, and just the frenzied, frantic bravura of it all is deeply moving, one of the best war portrayals to date. The psychological examinations are also very heartfelt, establishing the soldiers as characters, and more than mere pawns in a game of war. Each of them has a monologue that plays during the movie, their thoughts and feelings put into poetry for the screen.
While the movie is particularly preferential in its choice of which characters deserve more screen time, the performances turned in by each actor are masterpieces in themselves. Penn is forceful as the hard yet movable Welsh, while Nolte is believably stern and unrelenting as Col. Tall. Ben Chaplin is perhaps the most emotional character, Private Bell, who is haunted by thoughts of his wife back home. And Caviezel is an incredible addition to the cast as Witt, whose simplistic view of the world sets the mood for some of the movie's most powerful scenes and monologues.
Even those not partial to war films may favor the grandeur and spectacle of "The Thin Red Line." A stirring war epic and an intense journey into the mind are swirled into an engrossing movie that tugs at the heartstrings with such a grip you have no choice but to go along with it.
69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2003
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I saw this movie at the theaters when it was first released in 1999, and have watched it several more times on DVD, and own a DVD version of my own. I'm writing only to bring some balance to the polarized reviews I've read on this website. People who compare "Saving Private Ryan" and "Thin Red Line" and conclude by praising one and panning the other (it doesn't even matter which) are clearly missing the point of BOTH movies. Malick's film is almost an allegory...a visual and sensual evocation of both primitive and profound human feelings. I doubt that it was ever Malick's purpose to deal with war per se, other than as a medium to expose the inner heart of man. When I have enjoyed watching "Thin Red Line" the most, I have watched with that expectation. If you're in the mood for bare-bones war, however, this film won't satisfy. "Saving Private Ryan", while certainly also portraying the human emotions involved with war (most brilliantly and realistically, fear), was more concerned with gritty realism. The cinematography contrasts between the two movies alone ought to tell the viewer what he is in for. Malick's film is almost surrealistic in its imagery- "Private Ryan" has the gritty realism of a documentary. Both methods have an undeniable effect.
For my money, however, "Private Ryan" is what most people look for in a war film. "Thin Red Line" certainly conveys the inner personal anguish, doubt, fear, and even savagery of its combatants, but it doesn't show the real, external face of war.
But please, folks, don't delude the readers with the idea that one of these two films is "better" than the other. They both have their respectful place in moviemaking about war.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2002
I first saw TRL in the cinema in 99 and I came out half bored and very unsure about what I'd just seen, with my mates branding it a complete waste of time and money. Despite this i was still thinking about it 2 weeks after. 6 months later it still remained in my mind: images, sounds, faces, voices.
Curiously, I got it out on video and watched it again and slowly began to appreciate it more and more, like i was slowly opening my eyes, the film had captured something truly unspoken, something deep and resonant, a certain quality you might sense in certain moments from your favourite films or in those peaceful or happy moments of your life. I've now watched it close to 25 times (and still haven't met anyone who actually likes it) and i've never said this about any film before but it gets better every single time i watch it, something new in it always lies waiting to be discovered or interpreted differently, or with new experience related to more intimately, giving it a whole new feeling.
It uses such a different narrative style to anything i've seen,
the way it flows, the way is draws its characters and use of voiceovers is so unconventional it's no wonder that so many viewers are taken aback by it the first time they see it, we're so attached to the conventional narrative structure and rules its hard for us to appreciate or understand something so completely different in its telling, which is why i think it gets criticised as pretencious, boring...: it's a knee jerk reaction to something different, that we don't understand - hell, i had the same reaction.
For me the film is like a dream, like a river that flows, making the film almost organic. There's such life and power, deep feelings and emotions in this film that they don't wash away like your usual drama. Its use of symbols - both intelligent and profoud, the actors, especially jim caveizal, ben chaplin and sean penn, truly amazing, just the look on their faces, those moments of silence between characters speaks volumes. Unlike SPR this film doesn't stereotype the enemy but lets us see their tragedy as well in this war, making them real ppl, a true anti war film. I watch SPR again, despite thinking it great when I first saw it, it now feels so boring to me, so crassly American, so untrue. Now, the first 20 minutes doesn't carry the same impact anymore whereas trl's 40 minutes still resonates powerfully, like explosions of consciousness.
Sometimes i wish all films were like trl, and whenever I see a film that makes me depressed about the status of films today I quickly remember the Thin Red Line. So please, give this film a chance, see it a second time or a third time, let it take you with it, let it sweep you up, throw away your expectations, forget everything you've seen, the journey will be one you'll remember.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2013
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
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 same calm she did. Cause that's where it's hidden. The immortality I hadn't seen."
The emotional toll this film would put me through would be immense, something I have never felt before or will ever feel again. The Thin Red Line spoke to me in a way a piece of art has never spoken to me before. Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Pvt. Witt, delivered a performance and created a character that changed my life. I have never identified closer with a film character before. 'Identified' isn't even the right word for it, an out-of-body experience is more accurate. It was unreal. The film had an almost therapeutic effect on me, without me even knowing it, I was sorting myself out. I was getting better.
The film itself is pure poetry, the film is brilliant. Terrence Malick's best. The ensemble cast the films boasts redefines the term 'star studded'. Jim Caviezel, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, George Clooney, John Cusack, Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Adrien Brody, John C. Rielly, Woody Harrelson, and Sean Penn are only but a handful of the wonderful actors you will find in this film. The film displays the best use of voice-overs that I have ever seen. The Thin Red Line is a one-of-a-kind picture, and one that you must open yourself up to completely. Malick is a master of film, and The Thin Red Line is the strongest evidence to support that claim. The Thin Red Line will change the way you think about and view films. It will open your eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. That world is Malick's vision.
I am still in awe. What The Thin Red Line did for me is almost hard to completely grasp. It didn't make everything better, it is my girlfriend and my family who helped me finally heal. The Thin Red Line put me on the road to recovery, and that in and of itself is a wholly remarkable thing for a film to do for a person. The Thin Red Line changed me forever.
This is a film that wants to speak to to you. Listen.
52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Haunting score, stunning cinematography, superb acting, a theme worthy of great art -- this is a perfect film set in a war -- with truth, love, sacrifice, compassion, fear, hope, brutality and honour as subjects. As Gene Siskel said, this is the best war film ever seen. Unlike "Saving Ryan's Privates", this is no propaganda film. No easy answers, no flag-waving, no liberal "the Japanese are just like us" nonsense, either (here, the Japanese are fully human, and distinctly themselves). I was moved by the sometimes tender, sometimes gruesome truths revealed in the course of watching ordinary men in a hopelessly chaotic circumstance -- war -- as each strives to keep from crossing the thin red line into insanity.
Malick stayed faithful to the excellent novels by James Jones, borrowing Prewitt from "From Here to Eternity" and blending him with Pvt. Witt from "The Thin Red Line" to give us Caviezel's central character, a man striving to serve his brothers, willing to kill if necessary and at the same time to be open to the pathos and horror that killing another man entails. Caviezel said he and his fellow actors felt like paint on a palette when working under Malick. The result is a wonderfully composed masterpiece which asks questions instead of giving pablum answers.
Nolte and Penn give among their very best performances, the Nolte and Koteas dialectics are the stuff of great drama, and the post-skirmish pas-de-deux between Nolte and Cusack is unsurpassed -- intense, subtle, telling.
The battle scene at the start of "Private Ryan" is stunning but ultimately it is pornographic -- we watch guys being blown up but we do so as voyeurs. In "The Thin Red Line", Malick's and John Toll's cameras place us in the midst of the men, the sea of grass, the bullets and shrapnel, the mud and gore, the birds and plant life, the thunder and smoke. We are deeply affected, not "entertained" or thrilled but stunned, jolted and transformed. Hans Zimmer's sometimes melancholy, sometimes poignant, sometimes uplifting but always unobtrusive score helps weave the fabric of this film into a fine visual, emotional, intellectual and auditory tapestry.
Some critics bemoan the nature scenery -- well, Guadalcanal is a tropical island, that's where the battle was fought, and that's what the soldiers saw, get it? Some say the film was too long -- so, get an attention span, eh? Some don't like the voice-overs, which in fact serve masterfully to let us into the hearts and minds of those waiting to fight and waiting to die. Some were offended by the fact that GIs were portrayed as being concerned with profound questions about meaning, truth, hope, God. Guess what -- ordinary people actually ARE capable of thinking about such things when facing their own mortality. And our history is replete with poet soldiers -- Horace over two millenia ago for one, and James Jones himself at Guadalcanal.
I, for one, am grateful for a film that dares to be a great work of art. Every time I've seen it -- and that's quite a few -- a fifth of the audience stays seated to the end of the credits, reverent, thinking, feeling, often weeping. Dozens of my friends from all backgrounds have gone back to see this film again and then again.
This is a rare phenomenon, and like Malick's other films, will be more fully appreciated as the years go by. More than "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven", though, this film will be timeless.
92 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2000
Possibly the most powerful dramatic genre of film, war movies are never ignored. And in this day and age war films have certain expectations to become sucessful and praiseworthy: they must have a clear and evil villian, they must have an ideal GI hero, they must be provided with a sentimental patriotic score (John Williams the masses salute you) and most importantly war films must pack reassurance, a way to incorporate that killing is necessary, that war shuts out tyranny, and delivers strength to a country. (It doesn't hurt to flat out say the film's dedication is to the American men who saved the USA and ended the holocaust...aka Mr. Spielberg). Terrence Malick's 1998 war film "The Thin Red Line" was a terrible box office flop. On a 60 million budget the film made barely 10 million at the box office. It was the shadow that never existed at the 98 Oscars and many professional critics included such supposed millionaire movie judges like Roger Ebert, dismissed the film. The answer is simple, I see it every time I'm around a wide body of people: the film never pounds any answers into our heads like most three hour films (such as the recents films of Darabout, Spielberg, Cameron) "Line" is an essay, a poem, filled with questions and theory. In short we, in our stress-induced mocha fueled, cell phone powered lives want to laugh, want to cry, want to lean our heads against our spouse, and dwell in reassurance at a movie. We don't want to question.. The Thin Red Line is an anti-thesis toward war, war films, and the modern day pace of living. The film begins with Private Witt, a AWOL-ed transcendentalist who has found heaven on earth in the form of life among the natives of the Solomon islands. In this life, Witt finds no fear, thus he discovers immortality; to give yourself and die without a fear in your soul. Already, without wide realization, Witt has become one of the most unforgettable screen characters. He is the most intriguing character in a war picture since Col. Kurtz of "Apocalypse Now" and Hollywood screenwriters such as "American Beauty's" Alan Ball have recognized Malick's creation (just look at "Beauty's" character Ricky Fitts and his strong resembalance to Witt). The fact that so many critics have called Thin Red Line character's unfocused and bland is truth that the philosopical aspect of film is dying. The characters in Line are all original (much unlike the cliche roles of Spielberg's "Ryan"). Pvt. Bell discovers that lust and desire are interpreted in many forms, as his hearts contentness fades when his wife explains she could not withstand the wait for his homecoming. Sgt. Welsh's lonliness is only unbalanced by his kindness as he realizes that the image of one man can make a difference. ("If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours"). The confrontation between Col. Tall and Cpt. Staros give Malick's deliverance to Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" with his internal conflict between the soilder and the authoriy who orders death for the sake of ego. Possibly the greatest reason I award Malick's film as the decade's finest is because it's nothing short of revolutionary. It has much more in common with "2001: A Space Oddessy" than it does with "Saving Private Ryan" like most reviews compare. Both "2001" and Malick's film construct stances on humanity's present circumstance and idealism. Whereas "2001" stretched 50 years into the future to show how we destroy ourselves, "Thin Red" streches 50 years into the past. It poses the question: why do we fight one another? So simple a child could ask it, but no Harvard genius could even ponder to explain a right answer. Beyond all the polics and rich egoists, why do we even have enemies? Would the earth be a finer place without us? Does our ruin benefit the earth? In perhaps the most powerful cinematic scene of the 1990's American and Japanese soilders senselessly kill one another through fog, and destroy a village in mid-morning while many Japanese are having prayer. The battle is set to Hans Zimmer's detesting ballad "Silence". There are no heros no villians, just chaos coming to a climax. It ends with a brave monologue in the second person that speaks directly to the audience that clapped for "Ryan's" US GI's as they burned some Nazi's to death: "Is this darkness in you too?"
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2000
You buy a cd listen to it, and after a first listen you might not find the tunes "catchy" enough to stick in your head, you are maybe even dissapointed. But the next time you listen to it you hear more intricate details, you start admiring the subtleties, every time you listen to it you discover something new. These are generally the cd's you end up listening to the longest. This movie is that cd, the 3rd time I saw it, spotting the symbolism I had missed before ; the fire, the open empty bird cage, the use of water throughout, the officer whose wife has left him starring out at the ocean whilst a man can be seen in the distance bathing. Reflection of past and present, change and duality in nature, the mind vs the heart, but more importantly the individual ego vs seeing yourself in others. The movie use the war as a backdrop for these themes. "What stops us from reaching out and touching the glory ?", the mind, for it cannot encompass the infinite, beyond it "light and darkness, love and strife" are one. That is why the movie is not patriotic, not one sided, it goes much beyond the bad vs good guy routine. The director Terrence Malick studied philosophy ....not surprising... If you really have to compare, Saving Private Ryan is one of those cd's that you really like after a first listen, really catchy, but after a while...
59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Anyone familiar with James Jones' gripping novel concerning the so-called "thin red line" between one's war experience and madness must appreciate the stunning accuracy with which the latest film version of this frightening psychodrama plays itself into the experiences of a group of soldiers about to go into battle at Guadalcanal. History buffs familiar with the literature (both fiction and non-fiction) emanating from the Pacific campaign of World war two understand that unlike their European comrades, the dogfaces confronting combat in the South Pacific fought short, ferocious, and incredibly intense battles which were then punctuated by long and frustratingly lonely periods during which too much time left to ponder the reality of what they had been experiencing was often a maddening yet irresistible glimpse into the darkness of their own souls.
Indeed, a number of noted authors like William Manchester, Ronald Spector, and James Jones all refer to this uniquely Japanese-theater related psychological syndrome in one form or another in their writings. From the opening frames of this movie, the actors confront the nature of their own existence as well as the insane set of circumstances they face as soldiers trapped into a psychotic situation from which the only sure escape is violent and painful death. From frame to frame we catch glimpses of this insanity, from a soldier killing himself accidentally with his own weapon to others sacrificing themselves for the sake of their buddies. Although one is comically absurd and the other courageous, both are intensely unlike the circumstances anyone would experience anywhere else but in combat.
All that said, the film is a very sophisticated exploration of man's humanity and inhumanity under circumstances so bizarre and unusual that one must suspend one's ordinary consciousness in order to survive. The cinematography is marvelous, and even in the most gruesome and violent scenes, one gets the feeling all of this is choreographed by someone understanding the power of the camera to catch glimpses of man's essential struggle with himself in those moments he is most desperately trying to stay alive under the most murderous of circumstances. It will probably never be a film popular with or appreciated by the masses, for most people simply don't take the time and energy to peer below the surface of what is happening on the screen to understand what the director and actors are saying so passionately and beautifully both verbally and non-verbally about the nature of man, the world we live in, and the incredible things men do to each other in the terrible prism of combat.