Any movie that is incomprehensible on one viewing is commercially doomed and perhaps even aesthetically suspect. But that's not an accurate characterization of The Thin Red Line; this is a film that's incomprehensible on one cold viewing. It's not so much a matter of knowing what to expect, but of knowing what not to expect. If ever there were a work of art that justified the existence of critics, this is it.
So you have been warned. What Malick has fashioned here is less a conventional narrative than an impressionistic mosaic of our common yet varied experience of life and death, as focused and clarified through the relentless lens of war. Yes, The Thin Red Line has thrilling battle scenes; just don't expect the usual pace of an action film. Yes, it has significant thematic content at its core; just don't expect the usual clean resolution of these ideas. And, yes, it allows us to identify with the characters' inner lives; just don't expect any reassuring neatness or catharsis as each (with us in tow) meets his apparently random fate.
The Thin Red Line.
Written and directed by Terrence Malick, based on the novel by James Jones. Starring Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, John Savage, John Travolta, and Arie Verveen.