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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.39%
Average: 6.84%
Pretty Bad: 12.39%
Total Crap: 18.8%

11 reviews, 168 user ratings

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Thin Red Line, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A golden gift for you Malick fans; I must admit I'm not one of you."
2 stars

I feel sorry for anyone who sits down to watch "The Thin Red Line" expecting a star-studded war movie.

Yes, it is set in World War II during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and yes, it does boast a formidable roster of actors. But neither of those attributes means much of anything in The Thin Red Line, the first film in twenty years by the legendary, hermitlike director Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven). Treating James Jones' novel (which was filmed before in 1964) as a blueprint, Malick has crafted nothing so much as a poetic tribute to his own artistic sensitivity. And believe me, that's every bit as tedious and pompous as it sounds.

Malick has a spectacular reputation based on two movies from the '70s, neither of which is exactly a household word today. Yet a platoon of top-flight actors -- Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, John Cusack, John Travolta, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, as well as many up-and-comers or newcomers -- chomped at the bit to work with Malick. Why? You got me; Malick is not, to put it mildly, an actor's director. In The Thin Red Line, the shimmering palm trees, rustling tall grass, and noble wildlife get more attention than the soldiers. We get the point: Man the warrior, man the destroyer, is an outsider in the glory of nature. Only the dreamers and poetic souls among the soldiers (whose thoughts, very unfortunately, we hear as narration) are as one with Nature. This isn't a war movie or even an anti-war movie; it's the invasion of the interloper Man into the Garden of Eden.

For a while, you may want to go along with the woozy perversity of this -- a war movie crossed with Koyaanisqatsi. But two hours and fifty minutes is a long time to indulge a director's flights of fancy; at times, the floating hippie-dippiness made me nostalgic for the comparatively clearheaded Saving Private Ryan, which, despite its grandiloquent passages, at least didn't wander off into the weeds photographing parrots. As if someone had tossed ice water on him, Malick does snap awake and stage a crisp battle halfway through; coiled with tension, a hellish action painting in fiery reds and dark greens, it made me understand, for a fleeting moment, what all those actors and critics see in Malick. But then it's back to the hushed picture-postcard images and insights like "Maybe we're all part of one big soul." Some may see art in this; I see tremendous waste and emptiness.

I enjoyed one other scene in the movie, which I'll mention to make a larger point about the movie's failure. Nick Nolte, as a rabid lieutenant-colonel, speaks with respect and affection to subordinate soldier John Cusack. "You're like a son to me," Nolte tells Cusack, then, oddly, adds "My son is a bait salesman." What does that mean? Is it anything so vulgar as a joke? (This movie, by the way, redefines "humorless.") I enjoyed the actors' moment -- Nolte's gruff expression of soldierly love; Cusack's quiet, ambivalent acceptance of it -- but we have no idea why Nolte's character feels this way, no sense of their history together, and in any event, there's no follow-through. The father-son bond is a popular sentiment in the film: demoted captain Elias Koteas says the same thing to his men, and George Clooney, in his gratuitous cameo at the end, tells the new crop of soldiers that he is their "father." I'm sure this means a lot to Malick. I'm sure it means zilch to anyone else.

The Thin Red Line begins with images that seem designed to confuse those pitiable viewers who came to see a war movie: Two American soldiers (who, we learn, are AWOL) dance and play and swim with innocent Melanesian natives. Oh, so man is destructive except for these untouched natives? Don't they also hunt animals and live off nature? The movie gets no better from there; even when it puts on its helmet and goes to war, it's got flowers in its hair. Malick is known for deleting most of his dialogue in the editing room; judging from the pointy-headed dialogue he kept, I have to wonder, How dumb was the dialogue he threw out?

The burnished visuals, the folksy-eloquent platitudes, the arrogantly abstract characters -- all of this might impress the same people who have invested so much, over the last 25 years, in the notion that Terrence Malick is a poet of imagery. (He damn sure isn't a poet of words.) But I can only conclude that Malick has achieved a film-buff version of mass hypnosis.

"The Thin Red Line" is nothing if not hypnotic, though the trance I entered was closer to nodding off. Maybe all those Malick acolytes are part of the same big soul. They certainly aren't part of the same big brain.

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originally posted: 12/27/06 12:11:42
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good but not 4 everyone 4 stars
6/10/15 stanley welles a dazzling and beautiful war movie 5 stars
3/01/14 Tardkiller TM owes me 3 hours and 8 bucks. More narrative to be found in most grade school dioramas. 1 stars
11/14/13 mr.mike Liked it more the second time. 4 stars
8/25/13 Fire With Fire Pretentious,trippy,grossly inaccurate insult to those who fought and died at Guadalcanal 1 stars
4/11/11 Bronson Fastfowarding the home scenes worked for me 5 stars
11/09/10 Bob Hey Paulapalooza, Joe Ticket is right. Opinions can't be wrong. 3 stars
12/25/09 Jeff Wilder Less a war film than an existentialist parable. 4 stars
12/01/09 Silkworm Big actors names - Very Slow Dull Film 2 stars
5/29/07 outdoorbob another fantasy of war as any combat vet will tell you, see SPR instead. 2 stars
12/15/06 MP Bartley Lush and absorbing, but everything after the taking of the hill feels redundant.It's no SPR 4 stars
8/12/06 Jimbob Simply Stunning, best movie Ever 5 stars
8/10/06 Greg Fantastic,my favourite film ever,powerful and moving 5 stars
12/27/05 whitfield comparing TTRL to cookiecuttercrap like Saving Ryan's Privates insultsanyone with filmsense 5 stars
10/27/05 noops a boring war film 2 stars
10/26/05 roy holt best war film ever made 5 stars
8/30/05 ES Swims in a sea of pretentiousness, trying to relate WWII to vietnam all at a snail's pace 1 stars
7/02/05 sweetgrrl1972 Really. Really. Boring. 1 stars
4/12/05 darren deeply emotional. great score. ridiculous "cameos" 4 stars
3/27/05 indrid cold Blown away by Saving Private Ryan, but more reflective and poetic. 4 stars
3/09/05 Uncle Phucker Best Word War II film ever. Cannot wait for The New World. 5 stars
11/12/04 jellica it was very sad but i did not cry 5 stars
9/13/04 sam bonner 2 good scenes, otherwise one of the worst war movies ever 1 stars
9/04/04 jeff i found it slow and boring, "saving private ryan" wanna be. sucked 2 stars
7/10/04 Daveman Beautiful but too long and weak on plot and character development. 4 stars
7/02/04 Mike Lacking a good plot but best. cinemetography. ever. 5 stars
5/05/04 Todd Restler The most visually impressive movie I've ever seen 5 stars
3/12/04 lili its cool 5 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva No emotion 1 stars
1/27/04 Chloe Brody Adrien...Sean, what more could you ask for?! 5 stars
12/27/03 J One the best war dramas ever since I seen Platoon! **** out of 4 5 stars
11/25/03 homer J. Simpson an artistic master piece 5 stars
10/17/03 Jon read the book 5 stars
9/28/03 MGuettler exceptional film and the book is even better 5 stars
6/18/03 magus this film changed my life 5 stars
4/26/03 z the best i have seen in years 5 stars
2/27/03 jim nice review, i give the reviewer a 5 too. 5 stars
1/26/03 Jack Sommersby Superior to the cliche-filled "Saving Private Ryan". 4 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones zzzz yet another one-sided War Movie 2 stars
1/07/03 Vince it's ok. Nick Nolte is shit in my opinion though. 3 stars
11/08/02 Charles Tatum Better than "Saving Ryan's Privates" 5 stars
5/24/02 Piz trades intellect and feelings for pure blood and guts, well put together 4 stars
5/17/02 viking a war film to please pseudo intellectuals and drive every else nuts !!! 3 stars
4/18/02 natasha the acting is incomparable, the artistry is beyond mere words 5 stars
4/17/02 Sam Blows old war cliches out of the water bringing a fresh approach. 5 stars
4/08/02 CAT Saving Private Ryan is better, this movie had bad pacing and lacked in areas 3 stars
2/27/02 Shrike You need a brain to appreciate the philosophy, and to think the original cut was 5 hours 5 stars
1/15/02 Murray Castles God what a mess. Read the book and watch SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. 2 stars
1/08/02 Andrew Carden Beautifully Done With Realistic War Scenes. 5 stars
10/02/01 Zatoichi Jones Thinking man's Saving Private Ryan 5 stars
9/10/01 Ricky War! Huh! What is it good for? 5 stars
7/21/01 Matthew Bartley Hmm, grass...more grass...hey, yet more grass! 3 stars
5/28/01 cinkcool SO LONG AND SOOOOOOO BORING 1 stars
5/22/01 Kendra Moore The movie was just a little confusing, but I still liked it because Jim Caviezel is in it. 4 stars
5/04/01 ChiefAlDog Beautiful psychological examination. Shows how doubt/fear arose even in our patriotic war. 5 stars
3/27/01 Ichabod Crane TEEN MOVIE CRITIC II IS A STUPID FUCKING COCKSUCKER. A RIP OFF?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/20/01 Sudeep One helluva saving private ryan hands down ,any day of the year. 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike Much better than Saving pr, this is art, not hollywood 5 stars
2/13/01 swapneel the best philosophical war movie since platoon 5 stars
11/22/00 Pionek Wieczysty More slick & "Hollywood" (i.e., Stedicam shots) than SPRyan...but good. 5 stars
11/03/00 Cristopher Revilla Ryan is war movie, thin red line is humanitarian move, you fucking assholes!!!! 5 stars
10/26/00 Colonel Carter not good 1 stars
10/22/00 Gremlin Action scenes are cool. The movie has too many slow gay parts though. 4 stars
10/21/00 Rick Dyspeptic Ted Danson in'.Ryan'? Urgh.Give me Woody Harrelson chirping"I blew my butt off!" 5 stars
8/10/00 Terrie Smith Fairly interesting film; too many characters involved but the battles scenes were well done 4 stars
8/04/00 Viking Makes "A Zed and two Noughts" look as fast paced as "Speed" 3 stars
6/27/00 Purple Monster At least "Private Ryan" seemed authentic !!!! 3 stars
6/21/00 Tojo I laughed, I cried, I wish I died... 1 stars
6/19/00 Greyjack Possibly my favorite film ever. As with most great art, you'll either love or hate it. 5 stars
6/13/00 DAVID Movie had a few nail biting moments but drags at times with stuff we dont wanna see!!!!!!! 3 stars
5/18/00 Zatoichi Jones The thinking man's Private Ryan 4 stars
5/08/00 If you think it sucks, you're missing the point 5 stars
5/04/00 P.Rodriguez I was doing my Info Tech project formulas in my head while watching this Shit. 1 stars
4/01/00 Arnaldo Cruz powerful and at the same time,beautiful scrip,super than private Ryan 5 stars
2/15/00 Hunley Needed a really good editor to cut another hour out of it to be really good. 3 stars
2/04/00 Matthew Bartley Just fucking end!!! Said absolutely nothing about war 2 stars
1/27/00 PervertedPixie Poetic and visually sublime. Not as focused as Private Ryan but alot more heart felt. 5 stars
1/19/00 k.tomkowski Directorial masterpiece and beautiful photography. The script could be better. 4 stars
1/07/00 Murray Castles The most disappointing film I have ever seen. Malick is no Spielberg. 1 stars
1/07/00 JussMatt I felt like a POW being tortured watching this. Too long, Too Shitty, Somebody Shoot Me!!! 1 stars
11/19/99 Not a Spielberg fan, but Saving Pri. Ryan was better. Still good though. 4 stars
11/09/99 C.A.T.M. Did I mention this film is Fucking Awesome? 5 stars
10/27/99 Pat Lawlor Makes Saving Private Ryan looks like Disney 5 stars
10/27/99 Ralf Behet Brilliantly filmed, but unfocused and pretentious. Still worthwhile 4 stars
10/27/99 Keiros Hamburger Hill with a lot of Calvin Klein adds 2 stars
9/06/99 Weird Andy Simultaneously meditative and terrifying. 5 stars
8/19/99 KK Talk about a black hole. What an insult to veterans of the Pacific Theatre. 1 stars
8/01/99 Obi Wan I've Been Fucking Robbed!!!! Movied sucked Roseanne's Ass!!! 1 stars
7/30/99 Matthew Bartley Wow grass!!Lots of it!!...and thats it really 2 stars
7/30/99 4ever Surpassed SPR in its depth, cinematography, music, and thought 5 stars
7/24/99 Bozo The longest; the most boring; God it was agony 1 stars
7/24/99 Hagbard Celine Guess I just didn't get the Zen voice-overs. Got tired of looking at shots of tall grass. 3 stars
7/21/99 Tristynn umm.. I guess I missed something.Boring...SPR kicked this movies ASS!!! and some... 2 stars
7/06/99 Angie very strange movie....not what i thought it would be...the scenes were beautiful. 3 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg OVERLONG and boring, but it's poetry is what grasped me. 3 stars
6/19/99 Jude Best movie of the year, better than Saving Private Ryan. The OST is moving and make me cry 5 stars
4/24/99 gibb slick movie 5 stars
4/20/99 bb It was okay if you just want to kill time 3 stars
4/10/99 Keith Calder Beautifully shot. Everything else sucked. Pretentious without any real depth. 1 stars
4/04/99 Albert Snoooooooze. Go back in hiding, Malick. We'll just watch Badlands. 1 stars
4/03/99 Lily Wow, I really wish my grandfather was alive. questions... 5 stars
3/23/99 Matthew Bartley Dull,overlong and pretentious 2 stars
3/22/99 Ah Dooey Hey Katie, ypu're right. 5 stars
3/09/99 Katie Completely overrated! 1 stars
3/09/99 Karen This movie spent the whole time patting itself on the back. SUCKS!!!! 1 stars
3/09/99 Cathy & Kevin Way too long. No Plot. Boring. Got caught up on our sleep. 1 stars
3/08/99 Film Review Definately better than SPR, and that's difficult. Sound and music is pinnacle. 5 stars
3/05/99 Vick Di Brecci Lacks the momentum and urgency of SPR but better in other ways (acting, dialogue,...) 4 stars
3/04/99 Steve Kelley This movie somehow became pseudo-intellectual reviewer's chance to show off. 2 stars
3/04/99 Andrew Feland One reviewer said it best: Malick never met a leaf he didn't like. 2 stars
3/03/99 Babu I have enjoyed it up to the brim due to the Dolby Digital effects. First attack too long. 5 stars
3/02/99 BillyZ233 Terrific acting and an incredible feel to it . I loved this thing and I will see it again. 5 stars
3/02/99 EmmetOtter Very long and boring. 2 stars
2/27/99 Jerry-93 Better than Days Of Heaven. The inclusion of overt homosexual tension made this a pisser. 2 stars
2/23/99 little jerry Criticised for being obscure when what struck me was its simple clarity.Welcome back Terry. 5 stars
2/21/99 Shanandler Bong Good sound, okay acting, NO PLOT TOO FUCKIN' LONG!!!! 3 stars
2/19/99 The Graduate Very strong and beautiful, and the lack of traditional plot or main character worked well. 4 stars
2/18/99 Piz Very good movie, terrible ending, tried to be all things to all people 4 stars
2/04/99 Joel Rick Most of the film was BORING !! 2 stars
2/04/99 grunter Makes "Saving Private Ryan" stick out like the cartoon that it really was 5 stars
1/30/99 Vick Di Brecci Good, not great. I preferred Saving Private Ryan 4 stars
1/28/99 MickCollins It's been 20 years,someone remind Terry how to edit. Plus,could we see more naked natives? 1 stars
1/28/99 Melody 1 of the better movies I saw last year 5 stars
1/26/99 Danielle Boucher To long, to moralistic 1 stars
1/23/99 Cory Clawson Very intense and at times, very symbolic 5 stars
1/23/99 Mr. Film Clearly people who like this movie are much smarter than the rest of us schmucks. 1 stars
1/22/99 Tristan The best war movie I have seen since Full Metal Jacket. 5 stars
1/22/99 Brunetta Amazing! Brilliantly plotted with one of the most original arguments ever! 5 stars
1/22/99 toby Works on many levels that few seem to be grasping. Great cinematography, Nolte's awesome. 5 stars
1/21/99 Angus This movie is about 2hrs&45min too long. artsy crap pretending to be a war movie.Boring 1 stars
1/21/99 Henry Stewart Incredible, more about fear than it is about war. Definitely not for all tastes, though. 5 stars
1/21/99 Robin Bellamy Good locations, Good SFX, Bad use of top notch actors as extra, No story, Poor editing!!!!! 1 stars
1/20/99 CLC Jason S-you are so right. what a waste of money. classic crappy movie making 1 stars
1/20/99 if u dont mind having your butt hurt then watch dis thing. its gud! 5 stars
1/19/99 donkey_dew Beside Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List being the greatest movies ever made. 5 stars
1/19/99 You know who Come on, Jules. If you can't see this is PERFECTION, you should stop reviewing. 5 stars
1/18/99 Brendan Great movie you can't say anything bad about it! 5 stars
1/17/99 Amazed This film is not 180+ minutes. Get the facts before you review a film. 5 stars
1/17/99 Jeff good--but the cameos are distracting--better if made with a no-name cast 4 stars
1/17/99 crawdad The cinematography makes me want to see it again. Stunning. 5 stars
1/17/99 Jon Great Movie. Better Book. 5 stars
1/17/99 buddy Great film, I cared about these people unlike SPR where I couldn't remember their names. 5 stars
1/16/99 Jason Stein Biggest Dissapointment of the year!!!! 1 stars
1/16/99 Glitter I thought it was beautiful to look at, but there was no character depth or plot. 3 stars
1/16/99 mark Its Saving Private Ryan meets every Calvin Klein commercial. 1 stars
1/15/99 Joe Ferrara Well, not to wax too lyrical, but a lyrical epic. Almost every frame is a thing of beauty. 5 stars
1/13/99 jvt If you refuse to think don't see this movie. You'll probably walk out with the other morons 5 stars
1/13/99 Devon Good film. A bit long, but worth it. Jim Caviezel was awesome as Pvt. Witt 5 stars
1/13/99 Steve Kelley, There's a point in a 3-hour poem when you want to strangle the poet. 1 stars
1/12/99 LT Terrence Mallick needs a large dose of get-over-yourself 1 stars
1/12/99 Mr Showbiz Jim Caviezel turns in a breakout performance, and Sean Penn and Nick Nolte also shine. 5 stars
1/12/99 Charles von Waldenberg III It was too long, incoherant, pointless and pretentious. Anyone get the point? 2 stars
1/10/99 Johny Miles above of Private Ryan, a great film 5 stars
1/09/99 crc this movie was a joke. i laughed at john travolta, and clooney. and nolte-pleeease. boring 1 stars
1/06/99 Vincent U know nothing about Terry Mallick Tiffany- get a clue 5 stars
1/06/99 Tiffany It REALLY wanted to be an art film along the lines of Apocalypse Now. It fell MILES short! 1 stars
1/05/99 Vincent 1- the film is under 3 hours 2- it's a NEW adaptation of the book NOT a remake of the film 5 stars
1/04/99 Landru Overrated. Full Metal Jacket was a better depiction of combat. 3 stars
1/03/99 Critic Deluxe Typical stereotypes from Hollywood writers. Technical inconsistencies detract. Good action 4 stars
12/30/98 sin chul lee korea 5 stars
12/25/98 Cage Not as good as Private Ryan, but extremely well done.. Moving. 5 stars
12/25/98 Binky One word sums it up. Wow. 5 stars
12/07/98 Dick Richie Long, but what a great film. Lots of subplots, all riveting. 5 stars
11/21/98 RaidersFan Ben Chaplin makes a great American.This is an incredible movie!!! 5 stars
11/21/98 Richard Hill Astonishing. Don't expect "S.P. Ryan". More subdued, hypnotic. Harrelson, Penn great. 5 stars
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  25-Dec-1998 (R)
  DVD: 28-Sep-2010


  18-Feb-1999 (MA)

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