The Thin Red Line

"What is this violence in the heart of nature?" This striking question is one of many offered among memorable thoughts unexpectedly pondered by a group of fighting men in this stunning film. Terrence Malick hasn't made a film in twenty years, but with this return he reclaims his post as one of the most important filmmakers in the twentieth century. Not only does he beautifully frame the images of the stories he tells (always interpreted with flawless performances), but he manages to capture both the dark and light sides of humanity as well as the elusive spirit of man. His latest adventure travels into even a vaster and darker territory than trodden in his previous "Badlands" or "Days of Heaven," but it still maintains a collection of intimate and private portraits of real people, their lives, their relationships, their troubles, and their eventual redemption.

(c) copyright Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Photo credit:Merie W. Wallace.
The Army Rifle C-for-Charlie company land unopposed on the shores of Guadalcanal to relieve the war weary marines and begin their own expedition through a bloody passage on this beautiful and deadly island. Historically, the battle was a key conquest in curtailing the Japanese advance in the Pacific, but this premise is taken as understood while we discover ourselves among the men who are discovering themselves in a truly foreign territory. These men are confronted with the harsh realities of soldiering and warfare while simultaneously beginning to grow into brothers suffering together under the invading forces before them. The horrors that surround them are not only capable of destroying them, but also helping to unite them.

Their thoughts are heard like conversations in a room full of transients; their lives are spent in anticipation of the next moment; their friendships are encumbered with expectations from without and within; their actions are expected and unexpected; their lives are ticking seconds of questionable length.

The Guadalcanal of James Jones' novel is transformed into a visual world where the deceptive lush green jungle paradise hides dangers that make life into an surprisingly tenuous and questionable thing. This peaceful homeland of the Melanesians hardly seems an appropriate location for warfare, and this becomes clear not only from the images of the natives seen at the beginning of the film, but curiously underlined by the flowering palm bursting from it's pod in the water which leaves us with a final image of hope and resurrection.

(c) copyright Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: Merie W. Wallace.
Malick appears to be as true to his colleagues as he is to his values, and so we see him working once again, on this occasion, with such former associates as production designer Jack Fisk, first assistant director Skip Cosper, casting director Dianne Crittenden and editor Billy Weber. All of them, naturally, doing topnotch work. Director of Photography John Toll has shot some amazing stock making effective use of Malick's well-loved natural light.

The extraordinary cast includes Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, John Savage, Woody Harrelson, Elia Koteas, and Nick Nolte among its proud list. It speaks for itself that such noted actors were willing and enthusiastic to perform sometimes even in the smallest cameos and contribute to the creation of this striking ensemble-like film. Caviezel, especially, who portrays the Kentuckian private Witt is a new face on the scene who has burst onto the screen sensitively in a role that will undoubtedly make him into a star. Sean Penn gives a performance which reasserts his steady growth these past few years as a top class actor. Each and every member of the cast is praiseworthy, but it's easier to suggest that you go and see it than to run off a endless list of complementary remarks.

Malick is a man with a vision, and he is always able to translate it magnificently to the screen. Maybe production designer Jack Fisk's comment sums it up best: "Terry is not easy to predict, but that's why I love working with him. His perspective is extraordinary -- he sees things differently than most people."

Let's hope he doesn't stay away so long before the next time.

There isn't much else one can say about a movie like this without undertaking a detailed analysis. And that would be out of place here. Go see it. You've got to see it.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett