The Thin Red Line

Cast: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Miranda Otto, John C. Reilly… it’s a very large cast, so I’ll just stop there.

Written by: James Jones (novel), Terrence Malick (screenplay)

Director: Terrence Malick

Genre: Drama, War

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Released: January 15, 1999 (U.S.)

MPAA Rating: R

Summary: An adaptation of James Jones’ autobiographical novel of the same name, focusing on the battle at Guadalcanal during World War II.

Adrien’s Role: Walter Fife

Fife (Adrien Brody) was meant to be the main character, based on the author of the book and his experiences as a soldier. Brody put in the work of a main actor, and went to the premiere thinking he was the lead, only to find out he’d been cut down to a nearly non-speaking role. He was devastated, as you can imagine, as were fans of the novel.

On the Criterion Collection BluRay, there’s a deleted scene with Fife, which explains his fate. An old ankle injury is discovered at a military hospital and Fife is discharged, so he can go home and have surgery. This is actually what happened to James Jones, whom, as I mentioned, Fife is based on. Adrien is good in the scene and I really wish it had been left in. I’ve included it below, so you can see (the Fife scenes begin at 11:51). I’d recommend watching all eight deleted scenes, though, because they include: John C. Reilly who was also underused, Mickey Rourke who was completely cut, and George Clooney, whose role was greatly reduced in the theatrical edit.

Moving on: a bit about the film

This film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The cinematographer, John Toll, was actually nominated for an Academy Award in 1999, and I feel that is a well-deserved accolade.  There is a gallery here that gives you some idea of just how stunning this film is, visually.

In terms of story, though, I think this script suffered as badly as the actors did at the hands of the director. Malick filmed this as a cohesive story, according to many accounts, then went in and turned it into a series of vignettes. To be fair, a nice story is told visually, but the original narrative suffered greatly.

Another issue I had is the overall… feel, I guess you could say, of the movie. Even though it is about a conflict during the second World War, it still feels like you’re watching a film about the war in Vietnam. The jungle environment, I suppose, causes some of that feeling, but also, the soldiers seem much more modern than those in the late 1930s to early 1940s. There’s really nothing that sticks out as “wrong,” though, it’s just the overall vibe of the film. You definitely forget it’s supposed to be WWII. Or maybe it’s just me.

In Closing

In general, I would say this film is definitely worth watching, if only for how beautiful it is, and for the “people watching” aspect of finding various actors among the troops (pretty much every working actor in 1999 is in here somewhere). The story, however, is much more like an epic poem than a novel or screenplay. The point is made, some profound things are said by many of the characters, but it just feels… incomplete. There is no narrative.


Movie Overall: 7.5/10
Brody Performance: I can’t score him, because the editing chopped his performance to bits!


Author: Patricia Henderson

A 40-something from Northern California. I love movies. I love writing. So, here we are.

3 thoughts on “The Thin Red Line”

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