My Week With Malick #5: The Thin Red Line

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The boundary of madness and delirium is crossed…
The last four Malick films I have seen truly felt that they were the result of a mountain of footage being cobbled together into something else for better and for worse. The Thin Red Line does not fit this mold-it comes across that this movie was a very carefully composed and shot movie that was fully scripted for its entire duration, albeit maybe with a little improvisation here and there. This not only boggles the mind when you consider Adrien Brody’s massive change in role, it is also a case of “for better and for worse.”

There is no topping the opening scenes in Melanesia. Following that wonderful synthesis of sight and sound with the crocodile slipping into the waters, we are granted a delirious and intoxicating look at peace that feels like a scene from The New World in all the best ways. The water, the rhythm, the pure joy of Private Witt…maybe I just wanted to return to what I was used to by this point? Whatever the case, it doesn’t last long, and we are quickly thrown into battle with a massive cast that I’ll be damned if I can distinguish. That is deliberate and correct, but I can’t deny that I do feel some frustration over the distance we are given thanks to that. Not only that, but there is no narrative or a real plot to speak of. The characters who matter are sketched quickly and minimally, and we frequently jump between them based on whatever suits the whims of the director and editors. It is simultaneously the most and least successful method used to capture the terrors of being trapped in a war in a foreign country. You don’t get to know individuals or what it’s like to be in a war, but you sure as hell get the experience and the feeling of the battle. And yet I just said that this felt more scripted than the other four pictures in this retrospective. For that reason alone, I think that by the time this retrospective has ended, I’ll be calling this either the greatest or the fifth greatest in this particular filmography. Don’t even let me start on where the hell this deserves to go for a ranking of the films of the incredibly lousy year that was 1998, or even the Best Picture nominees. It is a minute shorter than the cut of New World that I watched, yet feels infinitely longer…for better and for worse.

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