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War is hell, not heaven
on December 13, 2003
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.