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Customer Review

on June 7, 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.
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