The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line

**

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If war is a slow motion flashback of sunlit curtains blowing gently in a warm country breeze, what would The Duke have said about it? "Fire the dang fool writer and tell that son-of-a-bitch director to quit girlying around, goddamit!"

In this case, the writer and director are the same - Terrence Malick, a legendary arty filmmaker, who quit when his second movie, Days Of Heaven, bombed in 1978. Now he has adapted James Jones' famous novel about ordinary fighting men at Guadalcanal.

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He has turned it into an ecological poem, interspersed with lengthy sequences of frightened GIs going to pieces in Pacific foliage. His message? Life is precious, war is pointless. Nil points for originality. The action has a bare simplicity: "Take that hill, soldier." Most of the three-hour movie is concerned with this suicidal mission, evoking courage of a sort, incompetence, a little madness, barefaced stupidity and a whole bunch of fear. If you like long grass, green parrots and immature faces wobbling under the pressure of molten bowel movements, you won't be disappointed.

Malick avoids the singled-out, buddies-unto-death, stereotypical cliché. As a result, Sean Penn (the Serg) is never able to imprint his personality on proceedings. Woody Harrelson (Serg 2) growls briefly and then no more. John Travolta is glimpsed, George Clooney is blinked. Nick Nolte has his teeth into something - how he loves the smell of cordite in the morning - before being left with bones.

Of all the characters, the most memorable is newcomer Jim Caviezel, as a private who keeps going AWOL to live with natives. Malick's eco subterfuge is so heavy-handed, it becomes an embarrassment. "Is there an avenging power in nature?" Caviezel asks at the start, over scenes of island harmony. The answer is man. White man. Worse than alligators. Malick's mistake is to use hyper-sensitive voice-over thoughtspeak, as if dipping into the subconcious with a literary spoon. There was a pretentiousness about Days Of Heaven that killed it. There is here, too.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Exploration of the Guadalcanal conflict during the Second World War.
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