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
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.