The Thin Red Line movie poster
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The Thin Red Line movie poster

The Thin Red Line Movie Review

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Unlike other war movies, The Thin Red Line looks deeper into war than just survival and patriotism. Based on the novel by James Jones, it looks at the soldiers' emotions as they become more and more introduced to the horrors of war. Taking place in Guadalcanal in the Pacific, The Thin Red Line is set as far away from Saving Private Ryan as it can be, both in setting and nature.

The Thin Red Line is an artsy war movie. Saving Private Ryan, the rival war movie of 1998, was an exceptional movie but shallow in terms of character. The Thin Red Line actually shows the emotions, feelings, and thoughts of the soldiers, whether by surreal flashbacks or statements directly to the camera. Furthermore, Terrence Malick included the scenery, the wildlife, the native tribes, and even the rival Japanese into his and Jones' world of The Thin Red Line, leaving nothing to be purely background. In Saving Private Ryan, like most other European-based WW2 films, the Germans are depicted as empty figures without souls. In The Thin Red Line, the enemy, the Japanese, are no less human than the American soldiers. The movie depicts the emotions of the Japanese as they face the death of friends and their pride.

Out of all of the characters, Nick Nolte probably deserves the most recognition. His character is the only one that seemed to receive several long scenes where he could truly put power into his words, and he did so with great talent. Sean Penn also gets some of the scenes and matches Nolte. With the rest of the cast, however, characters came and went, and others, who probably should be considered the stars of the movie, get plenty of on screen time but not as many strongly emotional dialogues. There were so many characters it's hard to keep up with them, and I don't know who the hell is who. The only strange part was the coming and going of characters. Nick Nolte was there for most of the movie, and suddenly, he ceased to be in the movie (no, he didn't die). John Cusack appeared out of the blue in the middle of the movie, became the star for a little while, and then vanished. George Clooney shows up near the end, gets a single scene, and then is never heard from again. It was weird.

As for war action, The Thin Red Line is mixed. The first forty-five minutes were extremely slow and not one shot was fired in that time. Compared to the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line is dull. However, after that, The Thin Red Line falls into a steady one hour or so sequence of a battle, but it is more strategic than just nonstop shooting. The battle is no where as gruesome as Saving Private Ryan, but, of course, it's a different kind of battle. Still, even during the long battle sequence, it is cut by periods of thought and flashbacks, which adds to the originality of the film and diminishes the excitement rate. Furthermore, there was no real final scene, and the one that comes closest to a climax is not that climatic. There never was an apparent turning point at the end.

The Thin Red Line takes a drastically different approach to war movies; some will love it, others will hate. I have respect for what this movie aimed at - the psychological side of war - but one might want to look elsewhere for the purely physical war movie.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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