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The Thin Red Line

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Thin Red Line

Starring: John Cusack, Sean Penn
Director: Terrence Malick
Rated: R
RunTime: 170 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genres: Action, Drama, War

Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

The author of 'The Thin Red Line' is the man who wrote the novel that made for my fourth favourite film of all time, 'From Here to Eternity'. I'm talking about James Jones. Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, 'The Thin Red Line', about American bravery, is certainly some of his best work. Jones' life was examined somewhat in 1998 in the film 'A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries' which told the story of a successful writer from the point of view of one of his children, and the novel on which it is based was written by Jones' daughter Kaylie. Jones died of heart failure in 1977 at the age of 55. His legacy as one of America's best contemporary writers is still intact.

If you need twenty years off from the time you made your last film, what better way to make a comeback than with a war film. Certainly the most harrowing of all genres, 1998 serves as a reminder that the greatest conflict in human history, World War II, never seems to get tiresome and audiences will pay big money to see stories about it. 'Saving Private Ryan' decided to make its first half hour better than the rest of the film but it never faltered for a second and Tom Hanks' performance can be summed up by asking one question: "Would you want to go to war with this guy?" The answer is an overwhelming "yes!"

'The Thin Red Line' marks the return of director Terrence Malick, whose last film, in 1978, entitled 'Days of Heaven', earned an Oscar for cinematography, and Malick knows how to visualize his films in an almost flawless fashion as he plunges his camera into 'The Thin Red Line' and stirs it around until the picture on the screen comes to a boil. For many, the film will be considered too graphic and that's just fine. Like 'Saving Private Ryan', it details a mission of American soldiers, this time in the Pacific and details the Guadalcanal conflict which is one of history's most written about events in dealing with the American war effort.

Malick uses poetic metaphors in many sequences as a haunting afterglow instead of any narratives that may have accompanied the film and it works on several levels but 'The Thin Red Line', in many scenes, is more about the illustration of motion picture technology than it is about war. Too much of the film details battle and not enough attention is given to characterizations. How can a war film be truly great unless you care deeply about its effects on people you've come to know after some rich character development. This puts the film in a rather quirky situation. Is it disappointing? No. It's never boring and it's use of explosive imagery is impressive for the most part but with a cast of such noted people as Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson and some lesser known actors, not considered stars but still worth their weight in talent such as John Cusack, Ben Chaplin, Adrien Brody and Elias Koteas, 'The Thin Red Line' works only on a superficially modest level and time will tell if it will obtain classic status. Some films take time to be regarded for what they are but others, like 'Saving Private Ryan', are instantly recognized and are truly the great films.

Terrence Malick should receive an Oscar nomination as Best Director but the film probably won't receive a nomination for its script, adapted by Malick or for Best Picture as it lacks that touch of greatness that Oscar looks for. It doesn't have that one talked about scene that will stir up conversation like the opening battle scene in 'Saving Private Ryan'. 'The Thin Red Line' is only a series of vignettes strung together with one big mid section that have a documentary style about them.

'The Thin Red Line' is excellent film making but only average story telling and while the latter is clearly more important as an audience takes it with them through the exit doors at the movie theatre, this film will still please fans of the war genre, but a lot of them will only want to view it once.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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