The Thin Red Line

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director/Writer:Terrence Malick
Twentieth Century Fox; R; 170 minutes
Cast:Sean Penn, Adrian Brody, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, George Clooney, John Savage, John C. Reilly, Jared Leto and James Caviezel
Based on the novel by James Jones

Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line was 10 years in the making, and the director's excruciating attention to every detail is evident in this epic, though flawed, meditation on war and spirit. The lavish landscapes ravaged by battle underscore the brutality of war, and the use of light and imagery emerge as more fully developed characters than any one of the ensemble players. Indeed, the somewhat heavy-handed and repetitive symbolism comes at the expense of character development. While Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, 1998's other World War II epic, was a heart- and gut-wrenching character study, a The Thin Red Line emerges as a poetic, philosophical study in the human spirit. The film chronicles the U.S.-Japanese battle for Guadalcanal, a turning point in World War II. Most of the narrative comes in the form of philosophical voiceovers, sometimes the narrator is obvious; other times it's not so clear. The players include the maniacal Lt. Col. Tall (Nolte), the married man (Chaplin), who endures by dreaming of his beautiful wife, and the idealistic young infantryman (Caviezel), who can't make sense of the cruelness of war. While the film focuses on the cooperation and unity of the company, none of its soldiers is given a chance to fully flesh out his character. A meandering work of art that would have benefited from more incisive editing.

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