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Movie Review

The Thin Red Line

Rated “R” for realistic war violence and language

Reviewed by: Todd Adams

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Action/War Drama
170 min.
Year of Release:

Starring: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Ben Chaplin, James Caviezel, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Jared Leto, Dash Mihok, Tim Blake Nelson, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, Larry Romano, John Savage / Director: Terrence Malick

“The Thin Red Line,” being released so close to “Saving Private Ryan”, is destined to be called “that other war movie.” This is unfortunate. For, “The Thin Red Line” is not just another brutal war movie. It is also a visual and thematic masterpiece. In any other year, “The Thin Red Line” would probably be a highlight, rather than being dubbed as an imitation.

For sure, “The Thin Red Line” is disturbing to watch. It is true to the horror of war. Though not as graphic as other notable war films, the directing seems to produce a very suspenseful and uncomfortable connection to the battles at hand. Thus, be warned that parts of this movie can be very hard to watch, and are certainly not for everyone. The violence at least is not an end in itself, and serves to illustrate the sacrifice and madness young men endured in WWII to fight for our freedom. In these respects, “The Thin Red Line” is similar to “Saving Private Ryan”. One might well ask why watch two such gruesome features in one year?

With that disclaimer made, I can say that “The Thin Red Line” was both stunning to watch and deeply moving to experience. The visuals are absolutely amazing, and this is truly a film for the big screen. “The Thin Red Line” also flows along like the beautiful pacific island scenery it captures. From soldier to soldier, the mens thoughts are heard as poetry and visuals to their pre-war life and longings. This film takes you inside the men who are fighting. Two main characters reveal profound states of mind in the midst of their hell, and both refuse to harden their hearts. One man focuses on remaining changeless as he continuously dreams about his wife. The other keeps a spark in his eye, shining from within inspite of darkness all around. As a christian, I found this character portrayal to be very inspiring. In fact, the director occasional alludes to heaven and God in a commendable manner both through the words of the soldiers and the photographic style.

If you are willing to stomach more of the brutal war material that “Saving Private Ryan” portrays, I can strongly recommend “The Thin Red Line”. Beyond the superbly directed yet disturbing war scenes, “The Thin Red Line” is beautiful to watch, and flows deeply into profound areas of faith, life and death.

Viewer Comments
Comments from the reviewer: based on some very negative comments sent in, I thought I should indirectly reply for the benefit of other readers… From talking to people who have seen this movie, it seems like wonderfully filmed but two thumbs way down or wonderfully filmed and two thumbs way up are the only responses. This may be why “The Thin Red Line” is both nominated for best picture and poorly reviewed by numerous critics. Myopinion is that this movie is the opposite of a “WWF” killem and shootem approach to war. This is a deep movie that brings up many questions and leaves the viewer to decide what to think. It has a thematic and poeticform—this is not Hamburger Hill. If you don’t like a poetic framework, don’t see this film. War numbs the soul, and in the midst of this meaningless at least one main character in this movie refuses to degenerate into an animal, even at his moment of death. This is inspiring indeed. This film rightly challenges the waste of human life resulting from the egos of detached military leaders. The man in the trenches has very often been slaughtered at the hands of some leader’s personal objectives—and yes, even often in WWII. The battles are intimately filmed, and rarely does the private see the big picture around him—this is also true to war. Finally, the sensual flashbacks of one soldier to his wife are in good taste, and are, FOR A CHANGE, of his WIFE. Consider as well how completely wrapped up this man is in his loyal love for her; how powerful that love is. She writes him back to basically say: I’m getting too lonely, I’ve found another, thanks for the good times, maybe even remain my friend, sorry but divorce me okay? The theater I was in was resounding with sniffling during this scene. What a powerful way to illustrate how love is not something to be played with, or thrown away to meet one’s own needs—the exact opposite of Hollywood’s usual approach to love.
—Todd Adams, age 31, REVIEWER
All I can say about The Thin Red Line is BORING! Our family went to see it and we could hardly sit through the entire thing. After about two hours, I was ready to leave, thinking that it was almost over. What a surprise to learn that there was another hour left! Where were the editors? As far as content goes, there was some inappropriate language and a man’s reflections about his wife which were not necessary. As a Christian, I don’t appreciate that type of content. Most of all, it seemed to be an antiwar movie. I saw Saving Private Ryan and loved it, but The Thin Red Line was the biggest let down…
—Heidi Schwarz, age 17
Don’t go see this movie! I couldn’t disagree with the reviewer more. The movie is painfully slow and has no plot. The only reason I can see that this movie has been nominated for an Oscar is because Hollywood likes to promote “artsy” movies. Because I don’t go to movies to get into the psychology of the characters, which is all this movie does, this is not a movie I would recommend.
—Dennis, age 44
It seems I enjoyed this movie for the same reason that others hated it. The poetic voiceovers seemed to emerge from the souls of the soldiers rather than their minds. I enjoyed that they made each soldier smart enough to express their intense experiences poetically. The “savages” did seem to be singing gospel songs. And this is where the main character found his peace. Thank God for the peace He brings. I could not shake the visuals from this movie (not just the gore but also the beauty) for days afterward. While “Saving Private Ryan” may better show the experience of war (according to veterans it seems), “Thin Red Line” goes even further to show us the humanity of the people we kill while we are in war. Must see.
—Mark, age 20
No. No no no. As much as I wanted to enjoy The Thin Red Line, I couldn’t for one simple reason: the voiceovers of the characters' thoughts. The problem is that not one of these voiceovers is realistic in the least. They all seem to be written by the same poet or philosopher who has never actually been to war, but has seen a couple good war movies and read a few war novels. He is thinking in the style of “The Grand Poetry of War,” which is sharply at odds with everything that is happening on screen. Their thoughts are not real, nor do they seem to be real; they are obvious fabrications meant to manipulate us into thinking of war in romantic terms. The language is beautiful, and the metaphors accurately describe the horrors of war. But unless the company shown in the movie is made up completely of Yale English professors, the voiceovers feel far removed from the individual thinking the thoughts.
—Matthew Prins, age 21
IMO: this movie stinks! It did a poor job of protraying the noble aspects of battle (e.g. courage). It also did a poor job of presenting the ugly realities of war (e.g. implausibly, gross incompetence in almost *all* the officers) Specifically: (1) the underlying philosophy of the movie was nihilism (i.e. there’s no meaning in life) (2) all the officers, except one, were grossly incompetent and/or consumed by selfish ambition—an anti-authority message (3) the photography of the battlescenes was unrealistically narrow. It was hard to tell what was happening, from a big perspecitive. One could argue that the effect was intentional, to convey the solider’s view of war. However, the view was even less informed than an infantry man's. (4) there were numerous flashback scenes of a solider in sensual situations with his wife. Her brain was pickled in sensuality. Later, she wrote to say she deserted him for another. The letter tried to portray the desertion and betrayal on noble terms, e.g. “you were such a good friend, I’ll always remember you, please help me to leave.” (5) the “noble savage” myth was promoted in the portrayal of the Pacific Island natives. (Strangely, they seemed to be singing gospel songs.) (6) the movie was very slow, and at times seemed like a Discovery-channel nature movie.
—Jim Yuill, age 38