Directed By Terrence Malick
20th Century Fox
By: Eric G.
After Days of Heaven in 1977, Terrence Malick gave up filmmaking. Rumors abounded as to why such a promising young director would throw in the towel after only two films under his belt. Some argued it was because Malick was disgusted by the Hollywood machine that would not allow John Travolta to take a break from Welcome Back Kotter to star in Days of Heaven, while others surmised that Malick was miffed that his films did not receive the proper recognition by the academy. Whatever the reason, some may still wish that Malick had remained in obscurity after sitting through his star-studded opus about World War II, The Thin Red Line.
Whereas Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan closely followed the storming of the beaches at Normandy through character studies and interactions, Malick’s The Thin Red Line meanders on a much larger scale, grappling with all-encompassing themes about the sinful nature of war and its effect on the human condition. Characters come in third behind themes and cinematography in terms of priorities as evidenced by the fact that huge brand name stars are thrown in as nameless, faceless, bit parts. These superstars stick out like sore thumbs among the anonymous faces, and we are expected not to give them any more attention, which is a difficult task as it is only natural to be jarred by a familiar face.
Malick’s direction is sweeping and poetic, but his storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. We are led in and out of the lives of random characters haphazardly with strange, disconcerting dialogue. Only a handful of the characters we meet receive any semblance of closure, and two of the main characters bear such an uncanny resemblance that it’s hard to discern any one story line. On the other hand, the brief snippets occasionally leave a lasting impression, as is the case with the initial battle scene where the troops are trying to take charge of a small, Japanese-occupied hill in Guadalcanal. Nick Nolte’s fiery performance is especially memorable in the scene where his authority is questioned when he orders a troop leader to have his men attack into a certain death.
The Thin Red Line clocks in at just about three hours, and you feel it when it’s over. Malick’s pacing is so slow that at times it resembles Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth. The tension for imminent violence is built up for so long that by the first gunshot, you’re ready to lunge out of your seat. Malick’s meandering style is much prettier than it is effective. You leave the theater feeling like you’ve been beaten over the head with obvious themes like “war is bad” and “nature is good.” Despite the ample amount of time Malick had to represent some sort of story with a plethora of A-list actors, The Thin Red Line seems underdeveloped and even unfinished.