The Thin Red Line (1998) Review

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(The Thin Red Line - 1998 - CC. 20th Century Fox)
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“Love. Where does it come from? Who lit the flame in us? No war can put it out, conquer it. I was a prisoner. You set me free.” – Pvt. Jack Bell, The Thin Red Line (1998).

Can someone please explain to me why this film is on for almost three hours? I mean, I just don’t get it, I really don’t. Regular readers may know that I’m really not the biggest fan of lengthy films. After two hours you’re really pushing it with me. So for a film to push it another hour, it simply begins to enter dangerous waters. Aside from that little discrepancy, I should make it clear that this won’t impact my rating. Sure, it’s a long film, but that just means there’s more for me to cover.

Well, I say that, but it’s more or less the same few points the whole way through the film. There’s only so many stories and characters a film can handle. One of the biggest issues I had with this film is that it tries to push this limit as much as possible. While an ensemble cast can often work wonders for a film, here it seems to limit it greatly. With this many characters in many different stories it’s only a matter of time before the meaning of each overlaps. With this one, it does overlap a tiny bit, but not to the extent where it is noticeable. By the end of the film I had that much of a headache I was about ready to give in. I’d finished my notes after the two hour mark so I really did try my best to pay attention for the remaining fifty or so minutes. Didn’t work out as much as I’d hoped.

The Thin Red Line
There’s nothing really all that interesting about the cinematography which is a genuine shame (The Thin Red Line – 1998 – CC. 20th Century Fox)

Performance wise though, it’s an extremely mixed bag. Sure, it’s nice to see soon to be famous actors or even comedic actors throughout. But they’re in the film for such small segments that it doesn’t really matter. I could be watching blank faced actors for all I care because that’s basically what it is. John Cusack appears in this film, as does Sean Penn. Does it matter? Of course it doesn’t, why would it? They’re genuinely just blank faces and I do suppose to some degree that is the intended effect. The faceless and nameless blanks of the war, the endless slaughter of man. Maybe that’s just me, but regardless I was just wanting to see John C. Reilly, and I did. For all of two minutes.

To have such a large ensemble cast means you’re going to have a lot of cameo and tiny like roles. Sean Penn is the big name of this film and he’s in it for about half an hour and very sporadic throughout. Hell, big name actors like Nick Nolte and John Travolta show up for all of ten or so minutes at the most. Surprising isn’t the right word though. George Clooney is in this film for some form of cameo style role at the end. What the point of this was I’m not sure it’s more or less just a way of recognising someone though isn’t it? I’m pretty sure the film was banking on the big name faces of the cast throughout. Woody Harrelson is in this film, pre-fame of course, and he ends up blowing his own arse off with a grenade.

But you’d think with such a massively talented cast, they could do something with the dialogue and script. I’ll be honest, they don’t do a very good job of it. Believe me though, that’s not their fault. For the most part the performances range from mediocre to alright, and that certainly shouldn’t be the case. Truly, I was expecting phenomenal performances because the talent in this film is so large. But no, it seems a bit phoned in. Again I think it links to that problem with there not being enough screen time for any one character. There are so many stories going on at once it becomes extremely boring.  

The Thin Red Line
There are a lot of characters within this film meaning we have time to learn about none of them (The Thin Red Line – 1998 – CC. 20th Century Fox)

Although these performances were mediocre the whole way through, one did stand out the most. The performance of Jim Caviezel is possibly one of the most boring characters I have ever seen. Hell, I didn’t even notice that his character died. To be quite honest I could be wrong in saying that, I quite simply do not remember. Maybe it’s that lack of screen time, but out of everyone in this film he absolutely receives the most of all. With that in mind then he’s basically tasked with carrying the majority of the film. It doesn’t work, that’s obvious enough.

For the amount of build up this film provides it certainly doesn’t pay off a whole lot. The first twenty minutes or so, although forced in dialogue, did present a promising team dynamic. Unfortunately that quite simply wasn’t utilised effectively or at all to be honest. For a team dynamic to work you need to keep the team together and have them interact with one another. There’s no personality to these characters. Why should I care for what happens to them? I’m more connected to the actors that play them than the characters themselves.

Verdict

It’s heavy handed in its message. We all know that war is bad, and this film attempts to tap in to the severity of it all. It expresses its emotional moments with almost robotic tone, each moment being as predictable and nuanced as the last. There are other, much better films that progressively show the horrors of war. Hacksaw Ridge (2016) provides horrifying depictions of what war looks like. Forrest Gump (1994) tackles the mental and emotionally taxing aspects of war. The Thin Red Line tries to do all at once, and instead of doing anything of value, it instead manages to make a mess of its intended message. But that’s not the fault of the performers within the film, who are few and far between at best. Of course, Jared Leto is in this. I’ll never forgive him for Suicide Squad (2016), I just can’t. Not yet.

Because to some degree, there is definitely a message within this film. If you can wade through the boring length and the sometimes dull acting, you may find something of worth. Something something, war is bad, whatever whatever. There’s no real base of its message, and that’s simply enough for me to declare this film as quite tiresome. A failed message that has been delivered better elsewhere. Alongside that though is some constantly dull direction and a multitude of stories that makes it a film that is extremely hard to follow.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
The Thin Red Line
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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