Robin Solsjö Höglund’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alright, I finally got a real dose of Malick.
Based on the novel by James Jones, the film is a philosophical look at some of the Pacific battles of World War II and the life and death of the men who fought there.
I see the appeal much more clearly now. You have to be a little older, more experienced and patient to appreciate Malick's films. This was released the same year as Saving Private Ryan and the two could not possibly be any more different, save to say that they're both about men fighting in World War II.
This has a tremendous cast but it's not as interested in the cast as the overall experience they can convey: it's not about a heroic lead and his supporting troops, but musings on life, death, battle, our world and our innate nature. The images tell the story better than the actors ever could (if you blink you'll miss George Clooney), and in a way I find that refreshing. My younger self would be bored or protesting the strange style and tone, but now I realize that it takes courage to assemble myriad Hollywood actors and use them mainly for tone and philosophical musings than anything else. There are battles, there is a structure to the overall film, but it's important to know that the inner workings are more important than the physical events.
Some scenes wear a tad thin though, and Malick really has to stretch your disbelief to a breaking point, the dialogue is practically like this (at times):
"Soldier, I need some covery fire!"
"Do you think the trees.. hold a lesser evil?"
"GODDAMN IT I NEED MEN ON THAT HILL!"
"Righteousness..candor..could we have known?"
"CALL IN MORTAR SHELLS!"
"The long journey grants regrets."
I think those are the two main downsides with his particular style, that it demands a lot of patience and that in a really grounded situation it clashes with their surroundings a bit. Apocalypse Now isn't completely dissimilar but that feels more like the characters are drifting away mentally, losing their collective sanity, whereas here they suddenly wax poetic in the middle of misery and strife.
That being said, the overall experience is unique and quite beautiful. You have to untrain your brain to expect structure and resolution - there is just enough of it, but it's more about nature, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Creatures of eons ago would eat one another to survive and expand, it's the most primordial instinct, we've just added guns and borders and called it political and tragic.
Oh and when it's my time to pass, may Jim Caveziel come out of nowhere and stare at me with his beady blue eyes. That was probably the working title for this: Jim Caveziel Stares At Dying Men: The Movie.