“Let me not betray You. Let me not betray my men.”
After his first two films (Badlands and Days of Heaven), Terrence Malick was absent from films for twenty years and then came back with this, something so rich, life-affirming, and deeply strange that it could only be from him. A war film about the brotherhood of soldiers (James Jones’ source novel, about his own experiences the Battle of Guadalcanal, is so rich and dense that five movies could be made from it and they wouldn’t resemble each other in the slightest), a meditation on the way life always fights life, a symphonic blending together of image, sound, and music (Hans Zimmer has never written a better score, and Melanesian chants, Christian hymns, Gabriel Fauré, and Charles Ives get in there too), less a nature documentary than a narrative film about nature (I’m pretty sure director of photography John Toll had a “sunlight wrangler” on staff), a showcase for some open, touching performances (Nick Nolte, John Cusack, Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, and a pre-Passion of the Christ, pre-Person of Interest Jim Cavaziel), and the most Transcendentalist movie ever made (the multiple voiceovers call up Emerson’s Oversoul, and the last shot feels like the ending of Moby-Dick), The Thin Red Line isn’t for everyone, but it’s peak Malick. If you want to know what he’s about, this is the best place to start.
The Thin Red Line has its Encore debut tonight at 7pm Eastern and 8pm Pacific.