Terrence Malick is America’s true iconic modern day Hollywood director. He only makes a film- and they’re all good for different reasons- when he feels ready.
So The Thin Red Line (Thurs, 23.00, TCM) ) hit the screens a full 20 years after his previous film. That’s two decades of gestation. That’s two decades of saying ‘no’ until he was ready.
That’s right. He just waited til he had something to say.
The movie is based on US writer James Jones’ uncompromising WW2 saga in the South Pacific. It has a hard boiled cast including John Cusack, Nick Nolte and Sean Penn as a band of tired, inexperienced,frightened and, ultimately, brave grunts who have to take back Guadalcanal from the enemy inch, it seems, by inch..
The ping of bullets and the sudden impact of grenades seem to explode out of the screen as the men discover who is a leader, who is a follower and who is the hero who has to stand in the way of bullets and pain to win a battle.
There are decent cameos from John Travolta, Adrian Brody and George Clooney- all of them happy to take part in a Malick return to the screen.
Of course, being Malick with his genius eye for nature, the island’s tropical beauty is given a look-in..and it makes it all the more powerful when blood and fear drip through the paradise landscapes or a bomb rips through the jungle quiet.
Malick uses voice overs from 8 of the soldiers to add a narrative and these voices slowly are pinned down as flesh and blood men as the movie advances, like the onslaught, minute by minute over 3 hours.
it may sound super long. But with Malick, who is credited as being a father figure to many of today’s film directors, it is a visual pleasure.
A million feet of film were originally shot by Malick- the first cut ran to 6 hours. Then it was trimmed in half.
Outstanding performance is by Nolte as the unbending Colonel Tall leading his platoon through bloodshed and death. He is a fine actor and transforms over those 180 minutes from a sneering cruel leader to a man who is fundamentally realising victory is his last shot at a military career. He has to win. He should have won an Oscar for that role- the role of his life.
If you fall for Malick, by the way, his film previous to The Thin Red Line is Badlands (1978). That has a lithe Martin Sheen- doing his James Dean thing- on the run in what to me is America’s best ever road movies. Download that somewhere, somehow.
But first take in The Thin Red Line.