[box cover]

The Thin Red Line

Director Terrence Malick's first film in over 20 years feels less an attempt at storytelling than it does an infamous artist's testing of the strength of his reputation. Built on the backs of the brilliant Badlands and fine Days of Heaven, Malick's legacy is such that even after disappearing from the industry for two decades he seems to be able to film whatever he wants, however he wants, and with apparently every actor in Hollywood begging for a part. The source material for this experiment is James Jones' "unfilmable" novel about a company of U.S. Army soldiers attempting to gain control of a strategic ridge in the battle of Guadalcanal during World War II. Malick packs so many characters into his film, that the first hour and twenty minutes — just short of half the total running time — offers only glimpses of these men at war and no opportunity for development or empathy, stripping it of emotional power. As a result, it's a confusing and dull first act. Things start to hum with two beautifully choreographed battles, but when the action dies so does the film. Malick's style has always been lyrical, but pointedly so. Here he seems to drift without a compass, releasing his bored camera to stalk aimlessly through placid landscapes, detached from the ponderous, obviously philosophical inner monologues of the soldiers. And it's not like Malick didn't have a story to tell — it actually appears as if he tried to make four or five war movies and cram them into one, and somewhere along the way was defeated by the task and lost interest. As an unnecessary distraction, the movie is packed with high-powered cameos from the likes of Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, John Travolta, George Clooney, and, in slightly bigger roles, Nick Nolte and Sean Penn. Very few of these fine actors are given characters to justify their attention-grabbing presence, and it comes off like a novelty, just a fat-cat has-been visionary showing off his wasted clout. That's fine for Malick, but not for the audience. The second edition of The Thin Red Line on DVD from Fox features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), with audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. However, besides the new DTS audio, no other supplements were added. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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