#134 The Thin Red Line
(1998, Terrence Malick)
“Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us?”
War has changed. Proxy battles. Death becoming a well-oiled machine. Other clichés that sound like the opening cutscene to Metal Gear Solid 4. How many times has it been pointed out that war is a horrible thing and humanity needs to stop, and yet we keep going back to war with each other, killing each other over differing ideologies because we can’t just sit down and be nice to each other?
It’s been pointed out a lot, actually, and yet still Terrence Malick felt it entirely necessary to make a two and a half hour movie where this message is shoved in our face over and over. Say hello to The Thin Red Line.
I can’t really sum up what this movie is apart from it being about war and how horrible it is. It involved World War II and the Americans fighting the Japanese…somewhere, but that’s all I got plot-wise since the entire movie was an exercise in pretentiousness and an overly repetitive message that, guess what, war is hell. Bet you never knew that before, right?
I get why this movie made it onto the list. It’s a critic’s darling. It’s a World War II movie that points out what a horrible war it was, and for bonus points it even manages to avoid mentioning the Holocaust since the Japanese are the enemy here. It’s all wrapped up in a very artistic package, technically well-made and with some very good actors like Sean Penn and John Cusack.
However, I found it dull, pretentious and longer than it would ever need to be. I don’t like war films as a general rule anyway, but this failed to win me over on any kind of level. I didn’t care about the characters (don’t even know their names), and the moody narration that covered many scenes felt like the movie was shoving its message in my face and going “PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!”
What made it worse was the focus on one particular squad member (whose importance varied depended on whether or not it was time for an overly moody voiceover) who was apparently a bit of a dreamer and missed his girlfriend. This meant that we had scenes of him having sex with said girlfriend inserted seemingly at random just to remind you that, hey, soldiers are people too, guys. As if no one knew this already. These scenes added literally nothing to the movie aside from making me go “who is she and why should I care?” And then, SPOILER ALERT, she leaves him anyway. Out of the blue, which makes it even better.
Another thing that seriously bugged me was the battle on the hill, where the squad is trying to reach a Japanese bunker at the top. Do you know how much time we spend on this hill, mostly with everyone crouching and looking moody? An hour. I counted. Some movies can pull off sitting around in a single location for an extended period of time, but this really wasn’t one of them. It just seemed like more of the same, constantly. They charge up the hill, guys get shot, the colonel gets mad, the captain argues with him, there are a few random deaths, then everyone sits around forever. It is, put simply, THRILLING (in massive sarcasm quotes).
It’s hard to feel sorry for the numerous people dying either. We barely spend any time with the characters to know anything about them, turning them into just a bunch of anonymous faces getting mowed down. They exist to get shot, and get shot they do. A lot.
What’s worse is the movie doesn’t know how to pace itself. As stated, it’s two and half hours long, and I honestly couldn’t find any kind of real narrative drive to the movie. The characters were bland, the story was non-existent, and the scenes dragged on for much longer than they’d ever need to. And then when you think it’s all over, they go into another battle just because they can.
The movie is well-shot, and the actors do a good job with what they have, but honestly, I couldn’t care less about this movie. Anyone thinking of seeing it, please check out the song “Eye For An Eye” by UNKLE instead. It samples a good chunk of the movie’s dialogue and makes it more exciting in the space of five minutes than the movie manages in two hours.
By the way, in case you didn’t get it, war is hell!
Starring Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly & John Travolta
Written by James Jones (novel) and Terrence Malick
Produced by Robert Michael Geisler, Grant Hill & John Roberdeau
Music by Hans Zimmer, John Powell & Klaus Badelt
Cinematography by John Toll
Edited by Leslie Jones, Saar Klein & Billy Weber
Favourite Scene: There’s one scene where the captain argues with the colonel about their plan of attack that was the sole scene where the movie kept my attention.
Scene That Bugged Me: Any time the movie takes us out of the action to dump a moody, barely audible monologue over the top to remind us of its overly blatant message. So, most of the movie then.
Watch it if: You want to see the origin of UNKLE’s samples
Avoid it if: You already know that war is hell