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Quick-Thoughts: Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998)

Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Jared Leto, Adrien Brody, Thomas Jane, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, John Savage, John Travolta, and George Clooney. Sheesh, everybody wants to be in a Terrence Malick project, huh? 

Terrence Malick shoots through the eyes of Mother Earth. The puzzling director is keen when it comes to making his visual presentation look as if nature itself is observing the events of the movie rather than as if the lenses of a camera were simply taping these ongoing stories. War is not an affair that affects just humans, as one could presume, but a grotesque act that meddles with the balance of our ecosystem. However, this is not to say that our environment does not participate in the act of violence, as well. Maybe, she too has something to say about all this. 

It stands to reason that the compelling amount of narration in The Thin Red Line is the primary highlight of the motion picture. Malick’s project peculiarly selects no designated main character in its story and decides to allow both breathing soldiers and dead men speak their minds to the audience. Each man shares their own inquiry on the war they are currently experiencing, slowly trying to make sense of all this theoretical fear as they lean closer and closer to death. The narration reigns these curious thoughts, debating our moral opposition yet never-ending requirement for violence, debating our instinct to keep on loving in a world of hostility, debating our world in general and who could’ve done this to us, etc., etc. Malick doesn’t root any solutions to these blemishes that these men find among nature’s outskirts. The characters only ask questions for their audience to debate rather than ever answering them through determined wills since the affair of mass bloodshed is a tricky subject to grasp and shouldn’t be defined with firm convictions.

And, need I mention the cinematography in a Terrence Malick movie? You all very well know by now that I’m just going to say “it’s f***ing gorgeous” in a dozen different ways. Malick and Toll are gods amongst this category and I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise. 

While I think Malick’s commentary on war is nothing less of a masterful inclusion for philosophical art, I do find it marginally troublesome that it isn’t combined perfectly among the movie’s more cinematically familiar substance. The Thin Red Line can sometimes suffer from a lot of prosaic war movie clichés that we’ve seen enough times before 1998 cinema—Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan also occasionally falls victim to this too. This mainly occurs in the characters and events that pop up among many of the grim yet generically straightforward action sequences—which were my least favorite parts of the movie despite how incredibly directed and unarguably gripping they can be. 

Luckily, Malick’s execution in every other corner of The Thin Red Line is so damn unique and hypnotic that it compensates for the habitualness of the film’s battle sieges that occasionally feel out of left field until their tragically fair-minded conclusions, especially when compared to the abstraction Malick wishes to accomplish in his peculiarly placed narration—which could’ve been improved if it were ordered more routinely inside of the action spectacles. 

Nonetheless, this was an astounding motion picture that had me infatuated with the mystifying substance that it brings to the table. Only few would commit the abnormalities in which Malick has done here in structure and subject matter between the globally popular art of cinema. In The Thin Red Line, these abnormalities pay off substantially. 

Verdict: A-

More of a Feeling Than a Story (Ranked List)

“The Thin Red Line” is now available to stream on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime.

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