The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line,

Terrence Malick’s return to the director’s chair after a twenty year absence was greeted as the cinematic equivalent of J. D. Salinger popping open his Smith-Corona to give it another go. MallickÕs only two previous films — Badlands and Days of Heaven — are considered authentic genius and a number of the actors in this film took low billing, even cameo status just to work with him.

As I recall, The Thin Red Line was written in 1962 and I remember it well, having absorbed it in high school.

– it tells the tale of the 1942-43 World War II Guadalcanal campaign through the eyes of several members of a U.S. Army rifle company Charlie. Malick weaves his way through the minds and eyes of several characters as C-for-Charlie prepares for its first action.

The result is colorful and full of texture but somewhat overwrought and gratingly philosophical. Malick is no slouch in the action sequences, as the grunts venture inland and are ordered to make a suicidal charge on an impregnable Japanese position, forcing analysis of the question of who should take responsibility for lives lost in pursuit of a larger goal. But then, we are faced with an entire generation of young people who have never seen a shooting war up close, and so any screen substitute must necessarily be surreal and contrived.

xA natural comparison for Malick’s picture is Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. In both films the setting is not just a location but an underpinning metaphor. From the opening shot of a crocodile slipping into primordial ooze, Malick uses the jungles,
swamps and grasslands that await the infantrymen in Charlie Company on Guadalcanal as an artist’s canvas rather than a mere backdrop to slaughter. Every line in The Thin Red Line is carefully drawn – and gorgeously filmed by cinematographer John Toll.

All the characters worked well in their roles, but the single standout performance was turned in by Nick Nolte. The best scene is when Nick Nolte’s character, is forced to deal with the direct refusal by an underling to execute an order. Nolte’s reaction and
transformation may have been said to be the best work of his career. He will own the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

It’s probably accurate to call The Thin Red Line a thinking person’s war movie – with all the advantages and drawbacks that description suggests.

I give it three of five full metal jacket rounds………. with a bullet.

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