The Thin Red Line was my first experience with Terrence Malick’s work, and like most of my early experiences with classics, I didn’t get it. I thought it was too long, too vague, and too concerned with being pretty to tell a good story. But yet, the film managed to stick itself in my mind, and I couldn’t let it go. Years later, when my film tastes had matured somewhat, I caught wind of Malick’s The Tree of Life, and desperately wanted to see it. But I wasn’t too sure if my palette could yet take a Malick picture (by then, I knew what kind of a director he really was), so I took advantage of an opportunity at a local art house movie theater which was playing all of Malicks films over a four-day period, and I went and saw The Thin Red Line again. And I loved it.
This was the first film Malick had made in 20 years, and I can only hypothesize as to what he had been doing in the meantime, but he came out of his sabbatical a much more realized director, and this is the first of his newly forged masterpieces. Malick showcases his talent bravely, and posits his fresh, markedly different style of filmmaking with the backdrop of a war film. Malick makes extensive use of introspective voice-over, which instead of being used for exposition is instead used to place us directly inside the heads of the characters giving the narration. Their thoughts are often moody and existential, with a touch of convolution that I’m sure our real brain’s thought patterns roughly run by. The ensemble cast are all individual parts of a whole, and as a whole they pull off some incredible stuff here.
Like many films on the list, it’s not the plot that matters in this one; it’s the feel, the mood, the character, and the study of life in its many facets and forms. That is what Terrence Malick’s films are all about; life, and this one chooses to examine life through the eyes of the various stages of people involved in war, and it’s a sobering view. I must admit, a Malick film is like a fine cognac for me; I can only have a taste every so often, and I can’t take too much at one time. For me, a Malick film is a once-in-a-while luxury, one that many people won’t be able to handle, at least at first. I know, I was the same way; it took me a while before I was able to appreciate a film like this, and it’s this that keeps me from giving the film a higher rating than I otherwise would have. Still, if this does turn out to be your cup of tea, you can’t get much better than Malick, so this is certainly one to add to your repertoire.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10