Wednesday, 28 January 2009

2008 Film Reviews #5: The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line (Terence Malick, 1998)

I'd been meaning to watch this for years, and finally purchased the DVD so I could have the privilege of doing so. War film; ensemble cast; highly-respected auteur at the helm. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I'll tell you what could. Having three principle characters bearing fairly significant resemblances to one another could be deemed a mistake. Getting Sean Penn to phone in his performance wasn't a great move. Implying that you're going to attempt an extensive study of the ethics of conflict - the kind of study that informs the film's source text - and then devoting around three quarters of an hour to the tactical mechanics of overwhelming a machine gun emplacement is a little contradictory.

All the discrete elements of The Thin Red Line - war movies, big themes, Penn, George Clooney, Arvo Part on the soundtrack - end up coagulating here. I'm sure that something about this must elevate it above the morass of blood-and-thunder war films, but perhaps that's only a (false) implication that Malick manages to sustain by his repeated use of Part's Annum per Annum and Hans Zimmer's portentous refrain: so many signifiers of meaningfulness are present, minus the content.

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