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IN SHORT: A little more than a third of a truly excellent war flick
To get this year's history of similar themes out of the way:
When The Thin Red Line was screened for us lower level critics, Cranky was finishing a run of about seeing forty flicks in thirty days. Totally exhausted, I went to the wrong theater and missed it, which is a good thing. With two days rest, I joined a packed, first show opening day play and watched the paying crowd get up and walk out, again and again.
The expectations for Terrence Malick's return to work after a twenty year vacation were very high. At two hours forty five minutes or so, The Thin Red Line exercises epic ambitions but succeeds for only about an hour or so in the middle. Most of the folk who walked out were headed for the bathroom, for while the movie is cinematically gorgeous, it is stuffed with lots of shots of nature and birds and native cultures that the Last Good War trampled on. The men of Charlie Company are, unfortunately, remarkably similar in appearance and Malick tells too many stories without finishing 'em up quickly. Parallel storytelling is a workable deal but, in this case, The Thin Red Line is stringing out too many lines. It feels like it's never going to end.
Based on James Jones book about his experiences on Guadalcanal, (with Iwo Jima, the most famous battles of the W.W.II Pacific Front) The Thin Red Line tries to show how War makes men bond as family. They fight with each other, as much as with the Japanese enemy; they show respect in different ways; they die just as stupidly as they manage to survive. All are affected by the killing and bloodshed. There is no gung-ho war-is-hell-but-so-what-feel to this flick -- the one gung ho character, impressively played by Nick Nolte has other motivation. And somewhere out there is a film student who can explain it all to Cranky, because the film is as a whole unaffecting to those of us who haven't experienced war (I missed Nam by a year, FYI). Some of the vets present at the show I attended walked out very quietly. These men (again, Nam era vets) told me there was too much onscreen to process easily. Cranky thought there was just too much.
When it works, The Thin Red Line is a gripping, compelling, edge of your seat (add your own adjectives here) that has, at its heart, all the makings of a great movie. You have stories of a soldier that repeatedly goes AWOL (Jim Caviezel) because he prefers the native lifestyle; The soldier (Ben Chaplin)who yearns for the wife he left behind, and has remained faithful to -- complete with way too many voiceovers and flashback memories; The commanding officer (Elias Koteas) who will not see any more of his men turn to fodder; The should have retired years ago West Point officer (Nolte), passed over for promotion so many times that he is gung-ho to prove his worthiness as a superior officer; His younger Point counterpart, the captain (John Cusack) is genuinely good at leading his men in battle.
You also have John Travolta, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and the return of John Savage (also pretty much retired from the film biz) in smaller parts.
Oh, yeah, Sean Penn is the above the title star of the flick. As the First Sergeant (i.e. the "real" leader) of Charlie Company, it is his role that should link all the stories playing out on screen. It does not. That's not a problem with Penn's acting. It's a problem with either the script or the editing, both under the command of Mr. Malick.
Of the multitude of roles onscreen, Nolte, Cusack and Koteas truly stand out and take their places on Cranky's year end list. Chaplin looks too much like another soldier (sorry folks, an unknown actor to me) that, were it not for the shots of the wife at home, he would be lost in the tale.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Thin Red Line, he would have paid...
Pay per view
level. The scenery is gorgeous, but it's not enough to get that extra
buck reco to see it in a theater. When it works, The Thin Red Line
is smashing. When it doesn't, you'll wish you were (smashed).
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