The Thin Red Line is a war movie that reclusive auteur Terrence Malick put out in 1998. Because the film was extremely critically respected when it first came out and because I hadn't seen it in such a long time I wanted to revisit it, but I was slightly put off by it's near three hour running time. I decided that if I wrote my review while I was watching the movie I'd have a decent chance of still having some part of my Saturday left after the battle had wrapped up, so here you go: my live blog of a fifteen year old movie.
Be warned: I am going to comment on what happens as it happens, so if you're a spoiler averse person who doesn't want to know what happens to Woody Harrelson's butt in the course of this movie you might want to skip this review.
Also be warned: yes, there is a butt scene, but not a lot happens in this movie.
4:24 - So far this movie is about how native people live with nature and civilized people live with death. This does not make me optimistic about the next three hours.
18:04 - John Travolta as a hard ass general? Jesus Christ what a bad idea. That guy's delivery is so goofy - and I have such a strong knee jerk reaction where I see him and automatically equate him with goofiness because of his extremely goofy body of work - that I am not going to buy a single word of what he's saying as "meaningful".
22:15 - Wait, next to Sean Penn is Adrien Brody, and I think across from him is John C. Reilly... Wait, Tim Blake Nelson is now talking to Bobby Canavale. Holy shit, Elias Koteas walked into the frame? Holy shit, this movie is basically every character actor ever. But how are they supposed to create characters when they have no lines and are just hanging around in the background? Until then recognizable faces are just distractions.
25:13 - Hmm. Starting to wonder if liveblogging a three hour movie is a good idea. Just had to rewind for a second, and that means I'm adding more time to -
WAIT 25:50 - FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTENTIAL WAR ACTION, WE HAVE MOVEMENT PEOPLE
26:32 - Dudes are gettin' off this boat!
27:00 - wait, before anyone can leave Nick Nolte has to have a speech
27:44 So they have gone from a bigger boat to a smaller boat. But the smaller boats are moving! We're getting closer to things happening!
28:54 - WOODY HARRELSON!? Holy shit, somebody called in some favors for this movie.
29:34 - Boats have landed. Repeat: Boats have landed.
30:52 - Oh, the beach they invaded was deserted. On the upside, John C. Reilly just had a close-up, so maybe we're getting close to a voice over monologue in the Dewey Cox drawl.
33:11 - Yet another grunt delivering a monologue about the nature of death in voice over. I just read the book Jarhead, which had a lot of monologues about the way war feels, and there was a lot of poetic descriptions of fear. However, in the book Anthony Swofford makes it clear that he was a literary fellow even before he enlisted, and that he was reading Homer during his off hours during the war, and that those traits made him an outlier in his regiment. Most of his platoon mates weren't prone to that sort of high falutin' talk. I buy Swofford's take a lot more than I buy this movie's take, where every grunt from Iowa is secretly a poet, contemplating the universe.
36:09 - Had the time to write that cause everyone was just marching for three solid minutes. But we just discovered a legless corpse, so time to refocus.
37:08 - Adrien Brody's head is so big and his body so thin that he looks like a Pinocchio made out of match sticks that somehow came alive and stole some army fatigues.
38:26 - "Maybe all men got one big soul, that everyone's a part of. All faces of the same man - one big self." Seems unlikely, but by all means, please continue.
41:26 - Is that Jared Leto? Goddamnit, STOP IT WITH THE DISTRACTING EXTRAS
42:16 - Solid four second shot of a candle in the darkness. Seems necessary. And... cut back to the candle.
42:57 - Alright all cynicism aside that was a solid fade out on the candle to the sunrise.
43:16 - SHIT IS EXPLODING NOW!
44:20 - Shit is still exploding in the background. This is starting to feel like an absentee dad who shows up with too many Christmas gifts because he forgot your birthday.
48:31 - Two men shot by snipers. Six second reaction shot from the grass. You know, typical war movie stuff.
53:15 - The first forty minutes of exposition probably felt much different in the theater than they do at home, where there are a lot more distractions. I probably wouldn't have been nearly as sarcastic about this movie when it came out as I am now because I have a lot more pressure to bail on the slow parts and to read / write on the internet now. Seems unfair, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.
59:50 - Woody Harrelson just blew his own butt off. (He was trying to get a grenade that was attached to his belt and grabbed it by the pin, setting it off.) Did not see that coming. (You probably did because of the warning in the header, but I added that part later.)
1:01:36 - Is it too late for Travolta's butt to be blown off? Haven't seen that guy in over half and hour but I'm still mad he's in this movie.
1:08:40 - The same way that a pretentious novelist might say that "New York City is another character in my book" I feel like the grass is another character in this movie. Now that the soldiers are moving into open fields where the grass is dead I feel like another character has gone the way of Woody's butt. Of course, this "grass" character is still alive every time they cut back to Nick Nolte at the rear. Maybe it's a flashback?
1:12:57 - Oh, it's that dude who was John Conner in Terminator 3. Huh. Guess he's dead though.
1:15:02 - Is that John Cusack? The score was making me feel real sentimental but now I'm back to being slightly annoyed.
1:16:24 - Just realized I still have ten minutes to go till the halfway point. Parts of this movie have been legitimately touching, and I'm actually surprised at how unrepetitive the battle sequences have felt, even though they've lasted so long and every soldier is facing the same risks and living and dying in same ways... So I do feel a little bad for the sarcastic parts of what I've written. But at the same time, I cannot possibly imagine how this can sustain itself for another ninety plus minutes without being completely self indulgent, and if I have to use sarcasm as a defense mechanism against the self indulgence I think that's fair.
1:20:12 - Flashback to wifey-times back home. Apparently women are always as serene and peaceful as native peoples - they're always hanging out by the ocean or in dappled sunlight in this movie.
1:26:01 - If the grass is another character in this movie, these cutaways to other flowers in the weeds are kind of like the soldier's flashbacks to their wives - wait, bingo! I was completely correct, as that shot of flowers was a segue to a soldier dreaming of sexy-times with his wife. Finally, one spouse that looks and acts like an actual human being.
1:30:21 - That was definitely John Cusack. If this movie is still finding the time to add characters then it's still possible that we might run into Corey Haim, Dolph Lundgren or any one of the dudes from Friends before this is over.
1:33:08 - Wait, Friends has a 9.0 rating on IMDB? What the fuck? I'm on IMDB all the time and the best movies of all time top out at about 8. Hell, I bet 2001 - Yup. 2001 is at 8.3. That nine point rating is bullshit and you know it Friends.
1:38:30 - The atonal ambient score is really effective - it takes you awhile to realize that you're hearing music and not just more battle noises, so it takes you a while you realize that you're being emotionally manipulated. Good job, composer-person.
1:40:14 - Is it rude to use that photo of that actor looking like a goober? I generally think it's cheap to take a screen cap of someone making a weird face but I like how goober-tastic he looks.
1:42:42 - I think Terence Malick's only direction to Nick Nolte was "You should always sound like you're about to confess your love of the smell of napalm in the morning."
1:46:41 - Oh, there's Adrien Brody again. In case you don't know the story, Brody's character is the center of the book this film is based on, so he thought he would be the central character of the movie. He got to the premier and discovered he was mostly cut out. Even knowing that story it's easy to forget that he's in this movie since it's been an hour since the last time we saw him.
1:53:25 - The traditional orchestral movie score just got faded down for a monologue about the nature of darkness in the human heart. There is something compelling about the way this movie approaches and then backs off of war film cliches - it revitalizes a certain type of imagery that we've become desensitized to. The film's rhythm is such that you don't ever have a sense of when you're going to see something beautiful or something ugly, so you're kept in a Schrodinger's Cat state where both are imminently possible at any time. That makes it very distinct from other films in this genre, which might be powerful but are predictable in a certain way. Most of the voice over asides are a bit on the cheesy side, but because they occur at such random intervals they don't really grate as much as they should.
2:04:38 - The soldiers are all celebrating their victory. Got excited that I was getting close to lunch. Nope, forty five minutes till snacktime. Sumbitch.
2:06:07 - JOHN C REILLY IS BACK! Holy shit, he might be the best actor in this movie and I do not think he has had a single line. (And yes, I know that Sean Penn has two Oscars, but Reilly can kill it in drama and comedy, while Penn has only been funny in Fast Times and that was 30 years ago. Plus I'd put Boogie Nights over anything Penn has ever done. REILLY 4 LIFE)
2:06:07b - Both Fast times and Boogie Nights have scores in the 7s. I am still calling bullshit on Friends.
2:09:47 - Has this guy's wife spent the entirety of the war curled up in the fetal position on the bed? What is she, a dog? Oh, wait, nope, she's also been swinging on a backyard swing at the magic hour. Dogs can't do that.
2:11:25 - Ah, Reilly just got a monologue. Maybe they were saving the best for last. And by last, I mean where a movie would normally end except this has half an hour plus to go.
2:12:40 - I guess it's alligator poking time? I think that's an alligator, but I'm too lazy to google whether its an alligator or a crocodile that has that kind of snout. Wait, wait, this guy's wife just sent him an I-want-a-divorce letter. Definitely not the time to google snout types.
2:15:36 - You know, I don't think I know the names of any of these characters, so it's good that I know the names of the actors. It might be distracting to have so many familiar faces in this movie, but it's also the only way you could keep it straight.
2:18:22 - Those chickens are roaming free. I wonder if they realize that they got a better deal than the alligator.
2:20:10 - Wait, is this movie going to be shaped like a bell curve with a 40 minute quiet introduction and a 40 minute quiet denouement? That feels... bullshitty, if I'm going to say it politely.
2:23:46 - This guy still sees "a spark" in Sean Penn. I dunno, man, he's basically always seemed like a miserable prick to me, but to each their own.
2:25:17 - I'm going to try to start the wrap up now so I can go straight to lunch once this is over. I know that on screen the battle has just resumed, but I suspect my opinion is formed and this last little bit won't change it. The Thin Red Line earned it's praise, because it was being reviewed by people who were seeing it as an immersive experience in a theater. In that context, it's a film whose bifurcated structure would create interesting juxtapositions. In the home, however, it's much harder to engage with - not because those juxtapositions aren't there, but because they're so extreme and the film is so long that at some point you have to throw up your hands and say "I get your thesis, so all these extra scenes are redundant." This is not a movie that was made towards casual viewing, which is a real problem, because it's very, very hard to watch a movie in your own house in a way that doesn't feel casual, and that's the only context available to see this movie now.
2:3022 - Adrien Brody returns. The fickle nature of Hollywood is kind of evident if you watch a movie like this. Why does Brody have an Oscar but not say Nolte or Elias Koteas, both of whom are great actors who have been in many great movies? If you watched this movie and were asked to pick the award winner you might pick Penn (who has a large part, comparatively), but you'd never pick Brody out of the line up.
2:33:16 - Getting real ready to eat. Just gonna put this here:
2:34:35 - Huh. IMDB says that George Clooney was in this movie. I thought that I had caught a glimpse of him for a second, but it was so quick that it wasn't worth commenting on.
2:35:35- While I was IMDBing this movie a main character died. Might have been a bit hasty in my efforts to wrap this up. Although the fact that I'm not 100% sure what that character's name is does raise the question "how much of a main character could he have been?" This film's cast is so huge that I can only be 70% that the lead is named Witt.
2:38:04 - AH! There's the Cloonster. Somehow Clooney looks like a baby since his hair isn't silvery yet. He's supposed to be in charge of this platoon, but he seems too young for that, which is super weird because he's always seemed like an old man. I don't want to do the math on his age anymore. I just want to eat.
2:39:20 - "If I never meet you in this life, then let me feel the lack" - this is the sort of stuff film's generally close on, which is getting me excited. But unfortunately that sort of vaguely aphoristic claptrap has been sprinkled throughout this whole movie so it could just be a lie again.
2:40:25 - aha! A boat! They're really shipping out! The boat from the beginning of the movie feels like it was from a different movie, one I half remember because I saw it so long ago.
2:41:12 - A grunt just said "I'm getting older now." You and me both, buddy.
2:42:54 - "Look out through my eyes. Look out at all the things you've made." I might have done enough looking for one day, pal.
2:43:40 - ANOTHER BOAT! That canoe is unnecessary. Just straight up... unnecessary. ENOUGH WITH THE BOA-
2:43:48 - Fade to black! YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME TERRENCE MALICK! I REGRET NOTHING!