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The Thin Red Line (Criterion) (1998)

Cast: Sean Penn, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, more...
Director: Terrence Malick, Terrence Malick
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Studio: Criterion
Genre: Drama, War, WWII, Criterion Collection
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
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The Thin Red Line (Criterion) (1998)
The return of director Terrence Malick to feature filmmaking after a twenty year sabbatical, this World War II drama is an elegiac rumination on man's destruction of nature and himself, based on James Jones' semi-autobiographical novel, his follow-up to From Here to Eternity. James Caviezel stars as Private Witt, a deserter living in peace and harmony with the natives of a Pacific island paradise. Captured by the Navy, Witt is debriefed by a senior officer (Sean Penn) and returned to an active duty unit preparing for what will be the Battle of Guadalcanal. As Witt goes ashore in the company of his fellow soldiers, they meet diverse fates. Sergeant Keck (Woody Harrelson) is killed by an exploding grenade. Captain John Gaff (John Cusack) is an intelligent, sober leader facing the destruction of his command because his commanding officer Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) is bucking for a general's star. Sergeant McCron (John Savage) loses his mind. Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) gets a "Dear John" letter from his beloved wife. However, as the U.S. troops advance up grassy slopes toward entrenched Japanese positions, it is Witt's voiced-over ruminations on life, death, and nature that are the real heart and soul of The Thin Red Line (1998). Adrien Brody appears as Private Fife, the major character of Jones' novel and the author's alter-ego, although Fife has been relegated to a minor supporting role by Malick's filmed adaptation. ~ Karl Williams, All Movie Guide

The Thin Red Line (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1998)
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll
  • New audio commentary by Toll, production designer Jack Fisk, and producer Grant Hill
  • Interviews with several of the film's actors, including Kirk Acevedo, Jim Caviezel, Thomas Jane, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, and Sean Penn; composer Hans Zimmer; editors Billy Weber, Leslie Jones, and Saar Klein; and writer James Jones's daughter Kaylie Jones
  • New interview with casting director Dianne Crittenden, featuring archival audition footage
  • Fourteen minutes of outtakes from the film
  • World War II newsreels from Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands
  • Melanesian chants
  • Original theatrical trailer

GreenCine Staff Pick: The notoriously meticulous director Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line, likely disappointed those who went into it expecting a straight war movie. It's not that at all, but rather a reflection on the nature of war, a poetic exploration of what war does to men, and to the world around them. As in all of Malick's films (Days of Heaven and Badlands are the others), the feeling is that nature will survive, even after mankind's follies have played themselves out. What other war movie dares take the time to offer long, lyrical passages of plants rustling in the wind, and animals going about their business (the film is set in Guadalcanal of the South Pacific, where one of WWII's more famous and bloody battles took place). What other war movie takes us through a non-linear story with no single, main protagonist, but rather a host of soldiers (played by a terrific range of actors), all expressing their feelings via voice-over? This latter aspect confused a lot of people who are used to one character, one voice, and one clear point of view. Instead, Malick gives us often stream-of-consciousness thoughts, different characters, but, it seems by the end, a collective consciousness. There is also at least one undeniably exciting, tense extended battle sequence, as the men attempt to take a dangerous, grassy hill. But there's much more going on here. In fact, the film demands multiple viewings. The Thin Red Line was overshadowed by that same year's Saving Private Ryan, but without the latter's penchant for sentimentality, it comes closer to being a masterpiece. -- Craig Phillips

GreenCine Member Ratings

The Thin Red Line (Criterion) (1998)
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7.15 (225 votes)
The Thin Red Line (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1998)
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9.67 (3 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Try Cornel Wilde's Beach Red Instead by etaviotal August 1, 2009 - 9:48 PM PDT
0 out of 3 members found this review helpful
In 1967 Cornel Wilde did basically what The Thin Red Line sets out to do and, in my opinion, did a much better job.

Not Saving Private Ryan by johelinedvd April 30, 2002 - 10:20 AM PDT
14 out of 14 members found this review helpful
Sean Penn delivers another brilliant and subtle performance as a sergeant just trying to do his job. Jim Caviezel anchors strong supporting performances all around. Nick Nolte is exceptionally powerful as a colonel battling personal and professional demons while also leading the assault.
This movie is mainly driven by internal monologues, surprisingly heart-felt flashbacks, and soft conversations, much more than battle sequences or plot points. Given it's running time, if you expecting an all-out action-war movie, this could prove to be a very long experience.
(one complaint is that the star studded cast tends to be distracting at times, leading you to go, Hey that's WHAT'S HIS NAME?, too often and disrupting the flow.)
Tall, green, windswept grass, bending and swaying in a dance. Idyllic. Pastoral. A place you would very much like to spend your quiet moments of a lazy dream-filled vacation. Too bad there is a war going on. A lush, beautifully shot film that juxtaposes the horror of war against magnificent natural beauty. A hypnotic, contemplative film that constantly balances the heroism of the combatants with their near paralyzing fear. Silent breezy calm interrupted by the intense bombardment of artillery. Quiet reflections on home, love, and a more peaceful place in face of the roaring intensity of battle.
The film accomplishes an extraordinary feat by presenting these almost contradicting images to reveal the conflicts of war, and more importantly, the conflicts of the men caught in war, their personal fears, strengths, and faults, and also the conflicts amongst the men driving the war along. The film's greatest accomplishment is to humanize war, that is, presenting war, not as a sentimental, glamorized, or romantic event, but rather as a gritty reality of men pitted against men, and men battling against themselves, and showing the personal cost of heroism.

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