on 19 May 2011
This is by no means a conventional war film but it is, nonetheless, one of the finest portrayals of war that you are ever likely to see. The film was not on my radar and I discovered it more by accident than design. It was first released in 1998 and was somewhat eclipsed by `Saving Private Ryan' which was released slightly earlier. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards this film failed to get a single Oscar. The more that I learn about the way these award systems operate and the complexities of the whole film distribution system, the less confidence I have of their value. In many ways `the Thin Red Line' is superior to Spielberg's war epic.
Directed by the reclusive Terrence Malick, the film is an adaptation of a World War II novel by James Jones (From Here to Eternity) about the battle for Guadalcanal. American soldiers land on the island hoping to secure it from the Japanese. This film does not follow the usual path taken by other war stories and unlike `Ryan' - which begins explosively, this film takes about 40 minutes before a single shot is fired! This long prologue is used to good effect as an introduction to the main characters and some carefully selected flashbacks to their lives pre-war. The tension to the film is slowly uncoiled as the troopships approach Guadalcanal Island. This is done quietly and thoughtfully and gives the viewer a good idea of the stresses and anxieties of the soldiers as they approach this life-changing situation.
The story is told through the eyes of 5 men of C Company and the visual images are simply amazing. This is where Malick excels. He has produced a film that is a cinematographer's dream where almost every shot is carefully composed as if it was to be entered in a photographic exhibition. I watched the film in the newly restored Blu-ray version and the video is absolutely fantastic with superb colour palette and pristine sharp pictures throughout. I watched this dvd through a projector and the video quality is one of the finest I have ever seen - and that includes some pretty stiff competition.
Of course, there have been many fine war films and who am I to say whether this film is better than `Saving Private Ryan', `Apocalypse Now' or the Oliver Stone Trilogy. It is certainly up there with the very best and for my money it is sufficiently unique to stand out from the crowd. All human characteristics are shown in this film, bravery, fear, uncertainty, blind ambition to name but a few. However, for me the overwhelming image is of the chaos of war and uncertainty of such a fast moving situation. For a lot of the time the enemy cannot be seen and with explosions and gunfire all around you it is not difficult to imagine casualties caused by friendly fire. It is havoc and the film graphically shows the toll that all this takes on soldiers both in terms of exhaustion - both mental and physical, pain, injury, disillusionment and ultimately death.
However, notwithstanding this reality the film is much, much more than this. I found the violence less graphic than in Ryan and the director takes efforts not to dwell on unnecessary gratuitous violent images. This film is very much a visual, as well as a vocal poem. The film uses hauntingly beautiful music throughout both by the highly talented Hans Zimmer and also by other classical composers. Early on in the film there is an extract from `In paradisum' from Faure's Requiem. This beautiful piece of music is used in a water scene and the combined effect of the music and cinematography is simply amazing. There are many other scenes where the camera is used in taking shots from unusual angles and this gives an enhanced effect to the scene as is the case when a young woman is swinging on a child's swing. Poetry in motion!
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and it is magnificent. There are a number of excellent extras on this film including an interesting actors perspective and an interview with Hans Zimmer - both in high definition. I have not yet had time to look at the other extras.
This is a truly wonderful film. Highly recommended,
on 2 March 2015
One of the most gripping and poignant war films ever made, The Thin Red Line provides food for thought as well as for the eyes. It tells the story of a group of American soldiers in WWII trying to take control of an island from the Japanese, but it also tells so much more. It speaks of the nature of life, both visually and through the interactions of the characters, not least with their Japanese counterparts.
There is a host of fine acting talent on display, from Sean Penn to Nick Nolte, from John Travolta to Woody Harrelson, from Adrian Brody to Jim Caviezel, from John Cusack to Miranda Otto. Their abilities are matched by a fine script and directing, both courtesy of Terrence Malick.
This is potent cinema, containing the power to provoke thought and to move the viewer. There are contemplative moments and violent action, both accentuated by being juxtaposed with each other. There are intercuts of nature simply being as we blow each other to pieces over a piece of land. There is the contrast between modern man and a more primitive existence. Basically, there is so much to explore in this movie that a simple Amazon review just can't do it justice. A truly profound film.
on 1 September 2005
This film shatters the standard convetions for a war film and gently replaces them with an intrinsic, poetic and beautifully rendered piece of film making. From start to finish the quality of the photography is fantastic and the director's faultless talent to depict vivid environments is wonderfully illustrated with seamless editing.
A scene depicting two soldiers getting shot while approaching a bunker is superbly complimented by the sun peaking out from the clouds just after they have fallen and disappeared into the tall grass. The absolute tension and thick air of the pre-dawn build-up to the attack with Nick Nolte and John Travolta is one of the greatest scenes of tension I have witnessed.
Personal narratives and agendas throughout the film flood the viewer with emotions and feelings that you wouldn't normally associate with a war film. The soundtrack here is also one of the film's strong points and effortlessly entwines itself into the path of the edits. Engrossing, beautiful and an absolute pleasure to immerse yourself into.
on 5 June 2011
This Terreence Malick epic looks stunning on blue-ray. It is worth the extra cash for the purchase. I own the VHS, the dvd, both soundtracks and now this blue-Ray.
Malick is the last true Poet of maverick American Cinema. His movies follow no conventions or rules; his career follows no rules or conventions. Thin Red Line (nominated for seven Oscars) opens with a question:
"Why does nature contend with itself?"
It shows a crocodile- a killing machine. Moments later, we see men (soldiers) who prove more deadly than crocodiles; we see a dying bird- its wing shattered by gunfire, pulling itself along the ground. In a way the film is not about war at all, but simply about the way in which all living beings are founded on the necessity of killing one another.
After 20 years away from film-making, elusive director Terence Malick returned with this freeform WW2 movie based on the James Jones books ('Thin Red Line' and extracts from the classic 'From here to Eternity'), which floats around the WW2 battle for Guadalcanal, pondering the place of conflict and pondering our place on this planet and the eternal scheme of things. The films essence lies not with the famous actors, but in Malick's fusion of abstract voice-overs and stunning images over beautiful music (Hans Zimmer and Melanesian chanting). It's a richly textured, slowly paced, visually stunning epic of the effects of war that hypnotises the viewer with its tapestry of sights, sounds and colours.
"This great evil. Where does it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed to this night?"
This amazing movie is a tone poem that may throw some mentally Challenged viewers through its use of interior monologues and lack of action.
"Where is it that we were together? Who were you that I lived with? The brother. The friend. Darkness, light. Strife and love. Are they the workings of one mind? The features of the same face? Oh, my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining."
Malick was 57 years old when he directed this epic. It would be great if we could use stem cell research to knock 30 years off his age. Perhaps then we could give him a billion pounds to make a dozenn or two dozen films to last through the ages......no?
on 12 August 2016
This film is a meditation on life and death, and it is beautiful
and amazing at the same time. Released the same year as
Saving Private Ryan, this is the better movie of the two.
This isn't a "war is hell" kind of movie, but a slow reflection
on nature and life.. A meditation of thought... You don't need
to be religious to get the spiritual aspects of this film, but they
are there. For me, it speaks of themes of Buddhism, but that
is just me,.
Whenever I watch this film, I feel a sense of peace after, and
I hope you do too...
So questions Jim Cavaziel's Private Witt in Terence Malick's epic 1998 film, in the aftermath of his unit's attack on Japanese forces during the battle for the Pacific island of Guadalcanal during WW2. With The Thin Red Line, Malick had returned to film-making after a 20-year break and whilst, for me, his film is not an entirely successful venture, it has many compelling moments of 'sublime' beauty and horror, all overlaid with Malick's trademark poetic (and frequently philosophical) touch. Indeed, Witt's quote, in which he is actually questioning humanity's place (or perhaps, value) in the world - given war's savagery - follows one such sequence of cinematic brilliance, as the private's unit overrun the village, as Hans Zimmer's haunting theme builds in volume and John Toll's camera (which is visceral and dynamic throughout) help to provide a truly mesmerising few minutes.
Of course, Malick's decision to return with a 'war film' (albeit imbued with his unmistakeable sensorial touch) was always going to provide a challenge, given the plethora of great 'anti-war' films already on the books - Kubrick's Paths Of Glory and Full Metal Jacket and Coppola's Apocalypse Now to name but three. And the man certainly gives it a good go - his 165-minute work being essentially one of three sections, topped and tailed by some reflective passages, which sandwich the film's hour-long centre-piece as, under the command of Nick Nolte's outstanding turn as the reckless, glory-seeking Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Tall, C-company attempt to 'take' a fortified Japanese hill-top bunker. Of course, this sort of thing has been done many times before in cinema, but Malick (and crew) deliver a brilliantly visceral and exciting sequence, during which (acting-wise) Elias Koteas shines as the concerned, self-doubting Captain James Staros, whose reluctance to undertake what he regards a 'impossible mission' puts him at odds with his superior.
Outside of the film's centre-piece Malick gives us a beautifully ironic opening as Jim Caviezel's (also excellent) AWOL Private Robert Witt is returned (forcibly) to his unit from his idyllic Melanesian island existence and sets the scene - of largely confusion and futility - for what is to follow by repeated (and probably overdone) voiceovers. His opening also sets up one of the film's key messages around the negative effects of war as, following the conflict (having come full circle), a young 'native' is reluctant to meet Witt's offered handshake. Similarly, Malick repeatedly contrasts the film's 'humanity' with the (external) forces of nature as (again, coming full circle) a crocodile is eventually `strapped up' - as well as including shots of butterflies, toucans, chickens, owls, bats, monkeys, etc.
In addition to Messrs. Koteas, Nolte and Caviezel (for me, the film's outstanding performances), the film also boasts Ben Chaplin, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Adrien Brody and George Clooney in its (probably unnecessarily) star-studded cast, between them delivering fine turns (Chaplin, Penn) to mere cameos (Clooney). I found that the film was certainly overlong (by at least half an hour), but, at its best, was brilliant (poetic, poignant and, of course, tragic). Malick also delivers a poignant ending (albeit its tragic element is fairly predictable).
on 1 March 2000
Comparisons with Spielberg's contemporaneous Saving Private Ryan have been made and made again. Leave them to one side. You must see both these films.
Thin Red Line has the compelling quality of not being constrained by a narrative. It really seems to follow the fortunes of a group of men at war without concern for dramatic effect, plot, or any of the things which are so absent from our own real lives - whether we're at war or on our daily commute. Thus the great action scenes happen early on, then fade out. And time after time after time, the viewer is left thinking "does it end now?". Infantrymen in the Pacific must have thought the same.
Does this make for a fun, unchallenging evening's cinema? No. If you want one, go elsewhere. But the battle scenes, though different to Ryan, have a similarly authentic feel; and many of the cameo performances are great. Put in the effort and watch this film.
on 11 May 2006
If you are looking for a Hollywood quick fix, action film then this is not for you. This film takes on many aspects that it is far deeper than an action film; war, philosopy and faith. Along with these is some fantastic cinema photography.
The film works so well because of the binary opposition of the beauty of creation and the distructiveness of man. It starts with scenes of locals of Guadalcanal singing there hearts out to God and depicts there ability to survive in a beautiful creation of God's. Then the opposite is shown of man coming from far away continents and destroying that creation.
This film is not for the arrogant or foolish, it is for those who want to go through a range of emotions and depths of psychology and philosophy. This film absorbs you and spits you out, confused on where you stand, which is why people rebuke this film.
It is a film you need to appreicate by watching a dozen times, because every time there is something else to learn. This is a film that does not even pay tribute to the actors which is why there appears to be no main character(s).
As far as a war film, the special effects are good, Saving Private Ryan did better, but it is not a film that has predominately focused on special effects, though they're pretty good.
Compared to Saving Private Ryan it wins, because it is not a trigger-happy American propaganda film, but a film that depicts and challenges man's inhumanity rather than gloryfying it. Action just does not make a war film by itself.
The sound track is fantastic! ie. the Melanesian Choirs. I loved it before I was a Christian, now I understand why that music is so powerful and why in the beginning of the film it fits the euphoric atmosphere that is quickly stolen away by war.
This film is in a league of its own.
on 29 September 2006
This is one my favourite films ever, its a beautiful piece of art, very moving and powerful with an excellent soundtrack. Alongside the artistic message though is some of the toughest and most realistic battle scenes I have ever ever witnessed in a movie, really on a par with "Saving Private Ryan".
Its a testimony to how good the story/script is and the reputation of the director Terence Malick by how many famous actors wanted to appear in the film. Some like Nick Nolte and Sean Penn appear throughout the move, others like George Clooney and John Travola only have brief scenes and others like Nicholas Cage and Martin Sheen were apparently cut out to make the nearly 3 hour length of the film more "acceptable."
Some people dont like this film because of its length and that it takes 40 mins before the first battle starts but I feel this mirrors real life, in that you dont flick a switch and something starts and then stops in war, things build up especially battles. We see the men cooped up on the transport ship with the tension building, the beach assault with a mysteriously missing enemy, the march through the endless jungle, passing wounded going the over way and the ever present nature/wildlife which seems indifferent to the wars of man. The locals for the most part certainly do (although in reality, and in some scenes, they did assist the Allies against the hated Japanese who abused their women and made slaves of the men.)
When the action begins it explodes, if you like thoughtful interesting films that make you think and that move you watch The Thin Red Line. It should have 10 stars.
on 31 May 2005
The film opens with a scene of paradise to the musings of an American Private, visions of a simpler life as he contemplates the existance of the human soul. The war isn't far away though, and it isn't long before- along with the rest of his company- he's preparing for a desperate assult on Japanese held Guadalcanal.
Over the course of the assult we learn something of the hopes, fears and aspirations of the American Officers and men, the terror of conflict and the memories of home.
The film adds a human value to war that I have rarely seen in a movie before, notably displaying the vunerability of the Japanese captured as much as the horror of the American losses.
The Thin Red Line, it has to be said, is not a war movie in the traditional sense- and should not be thought of as such- instead a poetic and beautifully shot exploration of what how war changes humanity, shot in the context of the Pacific conflict.
The excellent cast and skilled direction make this a compelling film, if somewhat slow and philosophical for some tastes. Otherwise, highly recommended.