Friday, February 4, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 8 - The Thin Red Line

Movie: The Thin Red Line
Year: 1999
Nominations:     Best Cinematography (John Toll), Best Director (Terrence Malick), Best Film Editing (Billy Weber, Leslie Jones, Saar Klein), Original Dramatic Score (Hans Zimmer), Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrence Malick)
Wins:  This was the year of the other big war movie, Saving Private Ryan, and the year Shakespeare in Love  won Best Picture.  Life is beautiful also took some of its awards, and The Thin Red Line went home with none. 

I've been meaning to catch this one for quite a while, given the depth of star power of its cast (Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Elias Koteas, John Cusack, Adrian Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, and George Clooney, just to start).  And then there's its director, Terrance Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The New World, and the upcoming Tree of Life).  However, the 2 hour 50 minute runtime was always a bit more than I wanted to invest.  But that's why we create these silly blog events or podcasts, to have a good excuse to devote your evening to something neither new nor topical, but fills a gap in  your own particular movie viewing.  And after the nearly 3 hours, I gotta say meh.  I'm actually surprised the actors in this weren't nominated, but I think they fell victim to a dilution effect - who do you nominate for what?  But for all the other awards, there were some good moments, but as a whole it didn't stand apart from other movies in my opinion. 

The story follows a group of American soldiers as they try to take the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese during WWII.  Told through some voice-over of several main characters, and lots of graphic battle sequences as they attempt take the hilly landscape from the fortified Japanese.  Nick Nolte is the commander who is sending a lot of these men to their deaths because he wants to be able to advance his career by winning a battle no matter what the cost.  Sean Penn is one of his sergeants who has to deal with the actual stuff the men do.  His performance is very much Sean Penn's serious face (similar to Mystic River, rather than his happy face - Milk, I am Sam), but it works really well here.  You can see the pain in his body as he struggles with having to make these decisions.  There are two "main characters" that drive the story, but it's hard to actually call them the main characters because they aren't in every scene, and the voice-over isn't done by just them, and their stories end before the movie does (in different ways), so they're not really the main focus, but they're the ones I remembered best.  Jim Caviezel starts off the movie enjoying the South Pacific - and then we find out he'd gone AWOL, and is brought back to the army and we follow him being belittled and bossed around, but trying to be brave and get himself home.  Then there's Elias Koteas who is one of the captains who refuses to obeys Nolte's orders to charge a hill because he knows its a suicide mission.  He gets beaten down and belittled, even though back in the US, he was a respected lawyer. 

Overall, the movie was beautifully shot - so many war movies are incredibly gritty looking and grainy filters on the lens.  This was shot was a ton of color, beauty and saturated scenes.  And for that reason alone, it's worth watching a bit of the movie.  And Nolte's and Penn's performances are actually terrific.  My problem with the movie is that it easily could have been 2 movies if the details had been improved or if half the characters had been removed it would have fit into one.  I can probably tell you one thing that happened to all the main characters I listed, but I can't tell you what the movie was about except it's a war movie, there are battles and people die and get wounded.  For that, I give it a meh.  3 stars of 5.


cinemasights said...

A lot of people complain about the characters, but I think they're missing that the entire point of the film is that Malick is creating a film in which all the characters are supposed to blend together and feel the same. He even cast similar looking actors.

By doing this, he moves past the superficial level of plot and character devices and crafts a film built purely around his ideological themes.

I can see why a lot of people wouldn't care for it, but I think it's a brilliant approach. Then again, I think everything Malick has done is brilliant.

Jess said...

James, I was impressed by everything you describe, but I think a film that rates above a "meh" has to tell a story. Many films have done the parallel storytelling or interweaving storytelling gimmick well, but for a movie that's nearly 3 hours, about compelling characters in a rich and varied landscape, I feel like it should move me a bit more than meh. I agree Malick has skills, but something about this didn't work. Perhaps its the editing - isn't that their job, to take what works and create the story.

CMrok93 said...

This really is one of the more beautiful films I have ever seen in my life. Almost every image is just so breathtakingly elegant I couldn't even handle it at times. Good Review!