The History Place - Movie Review

The Thin Red Line

By Fred Harvey
The History Place

It has been said this is director Terrence Malick's first film in twenty years. Perhaps Mr. Malick should have taken a refresher course in Film-Making 101 before attempting such an ambitious project.

The Thin Red Line, written and directed by Malick, starring Sean Penn, John Cusack, and Nick Nolte, is a World War II film about the U.S. invasion of the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.

This is an awkward, even laughable mess (yes, people in the audience did laugh) created from a screenplay that desperately needed to be rewritten resulting in a disjointed film desperately in need of re-editing.

Adding to the woe is one of the worst music soundtracks in recent memory. The intrusive, overbearing, sermonizing music throughout this film telegraphs most of the dramatic punches so that you generally know what the character is going to before he does it. How boring.

Making matters worse and adding to the boredom is the excessive use of voice-over narration forcing us to listen to the redundant thoughts of the main characters about love and war and the meaning of life. No one wants to listen to this stuff. The point has been made - we're watching young men die - we're looking at body parts on the battlefield.

Awkward edits, pointless montages and soapy romantic flashbacks look like something you would see at a college film fest. And I must add, any film director in 1999 using slow-motion footage during battle sequences should be court-martialed.

A little historical background -- The invasion of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands took place on August 7, 1942, and was the first American offensive of the Pacific War. The main objective was an inland airfield the Japanese were building. Over 11,000 Marines walked ashore at Guadalcanal taking the Japanese completely by surprise. The Japanese did not fight on the beaches, but moved inland and set up deadly fortifications on numerous hills which U.S. troops had to scale and destroy. Over 25,000 Japanese ultimately died on Guadalcanal including 9,000 from disease and starvation. American losses were 1,500 dead and 4,800 wounded. The Japanese evacuated the island in February of 1943.

This film portrays the U.S. Army troops sent in to relieve battle-weary Marine units. And the battle sequences in the The Thin Red Line are worth the price of admission if you enjoy realistic war drama in the tradition of Saving Private Ryan.

The big difference with this film is that these otherwise outstanding sequences are diminished by the over-the-top dramatic performances on the battlefield. War is hell. We know that. But this film wants to tell us war is really, really hell.

Nick Nolte as Colonel Tall is a catastrophe which nearly sinks this movie. He reminded me of the kooky army general in the original MASH movie (you remember the guy obsessed with football) except the kooky MASH general was more realistic.

Sgt. Sean Penn's performance consisted of: Pout A - Gee I'm really angry. Pout B - Watch out or I'll spit in your face. Pout C - I know something you don't know (with a James Dean smirk).

The cameo appearance at the end by George Clooney is just plain ridiculous. He gives the young guys a gung-ho pep talk looking like he just stepped out of the jacuzzi.

A steady stream of people walked out of the theater long before the end of this movie. One guy laughed out loud at the ambiguous ending. What a shame. What a waste.

Rated R - For violence.

Thin Red Line - Official Website
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