The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line ★★★½

If you watch just one World War II movie from 1998, make it "Saving Private Ryan." That should go without saying. Besides, I haven't signed on with the crowd that has found it necessary (or perhaps trendy) to re-evaluate that movie. I'm also not a member of the group that ooh's and aah's every time a Terrence Malick movie lingers on sunlight filtered through treetops, something that happens at least 25 times in "The Thin Red Line."

All that being said, this is a pretty solid exploration of the soldier's mindset during the battle for Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater. In recent years, in my opinion, Malick has completely lost his way as a filmmaker, a drop-off that may have solidified with "The Tree of Life" (2011). You can see how he got there in this film, but those misguided impulses are still largely held in check here.

An impressive all-star cast is frequently misused, another Malick fault. Nick Nolte is magnetic, a real presence here, and Sean Penn is allowed to shine as well. Ben Chaplin is too. Malick's camera is fascinated by the beatific expression of James Caviezel. But nobody else is given their due. George Clooney, the biggest star of that day, is in the movie for 30 seconds. Bill Pullman is mentioned in the credits, but I never saw him.

But the rainforests of Australia have never looked so good, and I don't mean that cynically. Nature, the emotional life, these are Malick's strengths. Narrative cohesion, not so much.

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