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Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick 1998)

After a hiatus of twenty years director Terrence Malick returned to filmmaking in a big way with The Thin Red Line, an adaptation of the same name novel by James Jones about the Guandalcanal campaign in the Pacific. The book was a follow-up to From Here To Eternity, also written by Jones, featuring some of the same characters but with their names altered.

Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) is a deserter who is living a carefree existence on an island paradise with the natives somewhere in the South Pacific. But when he is found and captured by the Navy, he gets debriefed by Officer Weksh (Sean Penn) and is then redeployed amongst the troops that will be tasked with recapturing the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese. From there the film becomes a series of segments, touching upon the experiences of a great variety of soldiers, as the men go ashore the island and try to take it from the Japanese. All the time the viewer is privy to Witt's innermost thoughts as voice-over narration contemplates life, death and all that is occurring around him.

Not a traditional war movie in the least, The Thin Red Line features very little combat and incredible striking natural beauty, courtesy of cinematographer John Toll, who makes the Pacific surroundings look like paradise, contrasting sharply with the human scenarios which are played out in it. The film also features a fantastic ensemble cast which in addition to the above mentioned actors also includes John Cusack, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Ben Chaplin, Adrien Brody, John Savage, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly, John Travolta and George Clooney. Apparently even more actors (including Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Jason Patric, Viggo Mortensen, and Mickey Rourke) were included in the original vision of the film but all of them ended up on the editing room floor. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, the film ended up winning none. The film did however win the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival and announced the glorious return of one of today's greatest American filmmakers.


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