If you’re going to see The Thin Red Line, don’t make the same mistake
I did and expect something similar to Saving Private Ryan. The Thin Red
Line simply cannot measure up to the movie that is likely to sweep the Oscars
come March. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have much of a choice. As
my good buddy Bill Richardson likes to point out, "comparisons are
invidious," but we can’t help but make them anyway. Like it or not,
any large-scale World War ii movie made in the next little while is going
to be compared to Spielberg’s latest epic, whether subconsciously or directly.
Where Saving Private Ryan is a graphic, if realistic, portrayal of WWII combat, The Thin Red Line tries to make the juxtaposition of war
as art. ‘Stream of conciousness’ voice-overs are combined with constant
poetic inner monologues, distracting the viewer and making the combatants
seem a little more meditative than was probably true of a ww ii soldier.
How long do we need to endure a close-up of the pores on Nick Nolte’s nose
before we realize he’s a bad, bad man? The effect of combat on the psyche
of soldiers is probably the director’s main thrust, but we’ve seen this
done before, and done better, in Saving Private Ryan. Forced character development
also reduces the roles to mere clichés; the promotion-mad Lieutenant
Colonel, the ‘Captain as father-figure,’ and the token cowardly private
are all featured.
To its credit, The Thin Red Line features some unbelievable camera work,
which allows a sort of surreal horror to grip the audience during some of
the few tense moments. The battle scenes are graphic and the locations stunning.
Metaphor and imagery abound; the effect of WWII on the simple, nature-dependent
lives of the Melanesians who inhabit Guadalcanal is a disturbing but potent
John Cusack and Sean Penn are, as usual, outstanding. As Captain John
Gaff, Cusack portrays a humble man forced into the role of hero when others
falter around him. Penn plays First Sergeant Edward Welsh, a cynical Non-Commissional
Officer who runs his company through a mixture of example and genuine compassion
for his men. Nick Nolte plays a role he is forever typecast to play: a hard-edged
ego-maniac who does most of his thinking with his gun. One can’t help but
think he should copyright the line, "On your feet, soldier!" John
Travolta and George Clooney are horribly miscast, but each only waste about
five minutes of screen time.
While at times overly melodramatic, The Thin Red Line isn’t unbearable.
It seems to combine too much into one; it’s almost as though the director
set out to make The Thin Red Line an instant classic and forgot to give
it an unique identity in the process.
The Thin Red Line is a disturbingly psychological war movie, but Apocalypse
Now did it first and did it better. The Thin Red Line is horrifically violent
in places, but so was Platoon. It hasn’t got the nerve of Full Metal Jacket;
it doesn’t have the characters of the Dirty Dozen. What it does have is
a combination of elements that will make it a confusing, ardous ordeal to
some, and a mildly satisfying film to war movie aficionados.