The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line. I’ve now seen everything Terrence Malick has directed. I thought I’d like this one more. Concessions: it’s gorgeous, the hilltop battle is a masterpiece (I can’t think of any movie battle where you have such a feeling for the geography, the space they move in), the acting is top-notch.

The challenge he doesn’t quite meet here is in telling a story about humanity by letting everyone tell a human story. Badlands and Days of Heaven each had single narrators; this one has at least seven, just counting off from memory. That’s fine. Single narration isn’t a rule. I appreciate the experimentation. I just don’t think it works here. With a few exceptions, these guys almost always speak lofty Malickian. Which is also fine! I can understand an argument that this could be the Universal Voice of the Yearning Soul, or something. It just didn’t feel right to me because the language was too similar, as if it were one person with a handful of accents.

Wikipedia tells me that Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Jason Patric, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke were all cast and filmed, but didn’t make it into the final edit. Incredible! I wonder if keeping these guys in, with their own voiceovers, could help balance the narration. Along with all the other actors who basically got cameos (Travolta, Clooney, Brody), could this be a movie that isn’t long enough? Dare I say it?

My Terrence Malick rankings:

  1. Days of Heaven
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. The Thin Red line

I ranked this one dead last (close call), but note that Malick’s worst has still got a good lead over the median film. I think it’s safe to say he’s one of my favorite directors (up there with Eastwood and Buster Keaton). I’d probably say that based on Days of Heaven alone. Other movies I’ve seen.