War in film has never really worked out for me; as a genre in premise it seems to be a quick route to success, but the titles contained don’t always match such expectations. Truly, certain movies are critically acclaimed, like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, but these are too boring and too long for me to handle. With general consensus around The Thin Red Line being “it’s a beautiful and poetic war experience,” I figured it to be different, but it was just the same – in fact being a choice example for war movies that are too damn long and too damn boring for me to handle.

Movies like Apocalypse Now and Letters from Iwo Jima don’t have to depend on its battle sequences to be exciting, their crutches are good stories and good characters. At the very least they held attention by being consistent in narrative continuity, never feeling meandering or ponderous. What we have here with The Thin Red Line is three hours of people sitting, walking, talking, thinking, and occasionally fighting, in gorgeous jungles.

From what I understand of our current conflicts overseas, soldiers today sit around for most of the year, and their time doing that is punctuated by brief moments of brutal, adrenaline-pumped violence. The Thin Red Line seems faithful to this idea, but it’s actually unfortunate, as the end result feels like two and a half hours of inactivity.

The film is a mission movie, where infantry during World War II makes its way across an island fighting the Japanese and trying to reach some point, a ledge, perhaps. Simple premise, but that’s usually a good thing in this genre. Off of the premise, the rest of the movie is constructed of philosophical internal monologues, arguments over command, and battle scenes.

Seems like a decent formula, and it would be if the movie was a short film, but in fact The Thin Red Line is twice as long as your usual feature. Also not helping is the lack of a plot and a lack of compelling characterization, which while not always necessary, would have brought a lot to this movie.

I remember when talking about The Dollars Trilogy way back when I complained that there was rarely a plot, and this meant that there was no sense of development, so it grew increasingly difficult to be engaged. The Thin Red Line rarely changes location, and never does anything new past the first thirty minutes, so I made a dedicated habit of checking the clock – and was hugely disappointed every time I checked. It just never ended.

As for the internal monologues, I found that they were done much more cinematic-friendly here than something like Dune, but they couldn’t quite replace conventional characterization. I didn’t care about that one guy’s romance because I never got the guy’s name and didn’t know anything about him. Nick Nolte’s character was actually fairly interesting, and his exchange with John Cusack was probably the highlight of the film (aside from Thomas Jane), though it’s kind of insignificant in context, but everyone else is flat and rarely seen.

So what the poetic monologues do to the film is make it feel like listening to a really smart and confident but pretentious asshole talking about something he doesn’t know about – he makes things up and talks around things, but sounds good doing it. Just wish it didn’t take so long.

On a positive note, I liked the discussions of the afterlife, and the fact that the enemy was rarely seen, which seemed to be more plausible from the soldier’s perspective than what we as audiences are usually privy to. Also, the movie looks great, and this can’t be overlooked. The beauty of the setting is matched only by the grace of the camera capturing it, and this is intelligently juxtaposed with the violence of warfare. But if that’s all the movie has going for it, then it does afterall belong in the same league as those other war movies, which is a damn shame and a surpirse – it seemed to have actual aspirations, higher than recreating battle.

Advertisements