Thursday, April 23, 2015

Top 97 Things I Love About The Thin Red Line (that no one talks about) Part 2

A few days ago, I highlighted several things I love about Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line that I feel are rarely (if ever) discussed. Here’s the second part of the post, which will, to be clear, spoil all major plot points of the movie. So please see the movie first before reading this post. This is too good a film to have ruined in print. 

Catch up by checking out Part 1 of this post here.

Pvt. Tella (Kirk Acevedo, Alvarez on HBO’s Oz) quietly, simply saying “goodbye” to First Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn). Devastating.

The way Lt. Col. Tall’s (Nick Nolte) index finger is pressed tightly against his temple as he argues with Cpt. Staros (Elias Koteas).

Watch how Tall’s forehead melts after Staros denies Tall’s order. He literally cannot believe what he’s hearing. And that spit…

Welsh studying Staros as Staros denies Tall’s order to advance up the hill. It’s a look that says, “I may not always agree with you. But goddamn if I don’t respect you right now.”

The mild humanity in Nolte’s delivery of the line, “This is a very important decision you’re making, Staros.”

The way Staros instinctually says something in Greek after he gets off the radio with Tall.

This is expert casting. Nick Stahl looks like a baby (he was 17 when they filmed this scene), in this movie. It really puts things into perspective about how young these soldiers were.

Another great POV shot as a soldier is dying. I can almost hear Staros whispering, “Go to the light, my son.”

Tall hitting a soldier on his helmet with his little wand thing. (Oh, and the fact that he carries around a little wand thing, as if he’s a conductor of the war.)

The way Tall says, “What are you doing laying down there where you can’t see a damn thing?” to Staros. It’s spoken with the cadence of a father who is immensely disappointed with his son.

Tall not flinching at the explosion right next to him. Great little nod to Robert Duvall’s Kilgore from Apocalypse Now.

Look at the way Koteas takes his eyes of Nolte for a fraction of a second as Tall bends down to yell at Staros. It’s as if Staros is a child who’s terrified of getting punished.

Look at the way the sun reveals itself as the soldiers storm up the hill. So many filmmakers are concerned with blocking the sun, controlling it. Not Malick. He knows the sun is a part of life, so include it you must.

The stare down after Tall tells Staros: “It’s not ever necessary for you to tell me you think I’m right. Ever. We’ll assume it.”

John Cusack easing out an “Okay…” before they attack the bunker.

Jim Caviezel’s face as he watches a fellow soldier die.

John Cusack letting the fuse of his grenade burn while he’s still holding it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a movie before. They always throw it right after they pull the pin.

The proficiency in which the big guy on the bottom of the frame throws a grenade. We believe he’s done it thousands of times.

Ben Chaplin whispering, “I… I shot a man.” It kills me.

“If some of the men pass out… then they’ll just have to PASS OUT.”

Cpt. John Gaff (John Cusack) studying Tall during the Colonel’s “This is my FIRST war!” rant.

This shot has been discussed a lot, but that’s because it’s one of the finest ever captured in all of film. Such quiet horror.

The attack on the village is terrifying for many reasons, but the fact that the Americans can’t see anything when it starts.... I mean, can you imagine?

The fact that an American war film takes the time to highlight an enemy soldier trying to protect his injured friend.

This subjective camera shot. It’s so haunting.

The overall emotions of these Japanese soldiers. Some pray, others protect; some beg for the carnage to stop, others loudly go insane.

Tall relieving Staros of his command is my favorite verbal exchange in the film. The emotion is perfect throughout. It’s the scene that makes me appreciate Nolte and Koteas the most out of all the actors in the film.

The highlight of the scene has to be Staros turning his head in disgust when Tall tells him he’s going to give Staros the Purple Star because of “That scratch on your face, and because of those cuts on your hands.”

Tall’s silent, isolated, and one would assume, very rare display of remorse. Could be the single best scene of Nolte’s career. Such quiet, astonishing power.

The way Koteas smiles as he gives a bottle of liquor to one of his men brings tears to my eyes. He really is like their father.

The journey Pvt. Dale (Arie Verveen) goes on. From sadistically pulling teeth from dead men, to sobbing by himself in the rain.

The montage of the men enjoying a week’s rest is very telling. They laugh and swim and jump and drink. But they also fight like dogs and come under attack from the enemy. There is truly no rest from war.

“Love. Where does it come from? Who lit this flame in us?”

“I look at that boy dying, I don’t feel nothin’. I don’t care about nothin’ anymore.”
“Sounds like bliss. I don’t have that feeling yet. That numbness.”

This melancholic shot of Miranda Otto as her new lover approaches.

Ben Chaplin’s reaction as he reads the letter from his wife is a hauntingly concise measure of grief. Denial, anger, depression… it’s all there. You don’t direct scenes like that – “So, uhh, read the letter and react to it, okay?” – instead, you let the actor act. And when they’re that good, scenes like this are what happens.

The brief scene between Jim Caviezel and Thomas Jane is a thing of wonder. How long has Jane’s character been sitting out here, alone, without food or water? Why is he okay with sitting out here alone? How long will he be there? Will he ever be found again?

“You ever get lonely?”
“Only around people.”

The way the Japanese soldiers slowly descend from the jungle to the river.

The fear in this soldier’s eyes as he swims downriver. It’s as if he knows he’s swimming to certain death.

The humanity of the Japanese soldiers as they give Pvt. Witt every chance to surrender.

Witt swimming with the village kids after he’s been killed. Is this his heaven?

The way the men silently collect around Witt’s grave. You can tell how much his spirit meant to all them.

I love this guy’s face. That’s a fucking face right there.

Pvt. Train. He made it. “I’m gettin’ older now. By no means old, but older.”

It would be so easy for Malick to end the film with this shot. It’s aesthetically beautiful, and it metaphorically says that the island is behind the men, but will still always be with them.
Instead, he ends the film with this, a sole plant emerging from the water. What does it all mean? I leave for you to decide.

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  1. Great observations of one of my favourites, The Thin Red Line haunts me.
    I stand to be corrected, but I love the fact that you never see the Stars and Stripes in Malick's film.

    1. Hey Paul, thanks so much for stopping by. Man, you just blew my mind... I mean, there has to be a flag in there somewhere, right? But hell, maybe not. Either way, it definitely isn't as prominent as, say, the opening andclosing shots of The Thin Red Line's 1998 WWII counterpart.

  2. That shot you mentioned about the son is just perfect about Malick's idea of pure cinema. If the sun is shining, he just lets it happen and make it part of the film. A lesser filmmaker would bitch about it because it would claim to ruin the light or the scene. Malick's idea is to just, let it go.

    This is why I think this film will always be one of the best war or anti-war films ever as it shows elements of humanity that isn't seen. Especially from the perspective of the Japanese as it is truly a film for the ages. Maybe that final shot of that plant might not mean anything or it could mean that the peace of that island is emerging again after a period of total chaos.

    1. Love your thought on that final shot. That's a very endearing perspective. And I also love that you appreciate how Malick doesn't block out the sun. Let it go, that's damn right.

  3. Good god, limiting yourself to only 97 things must have been awful, but you did a fantastic job with those 97 things. I saw this movie about a year ago when I found your blog, got it from Netflix and watched it...I dunno how many times in about a month without letting anyone send it back. Finally someone did send it back (without my permission), which is when I went out and bought my first Criterion Collection Blu-ray, or this movie (can't stop buying them anymore, so gosh darn expensive though). I'm so happy I did though, but without your blog I probably would not have watched it yet (or own any Criterion Collection), so thanks on that. But overall this is a great post (both Part 1 and 2 for that matter), noticed so many little things, I love it. I also can't help but notice how well you can articulate things in words. I always notice things in films, and see that they are important, powerful, and symbolic, but I can almost never find words to describe them, really great job on that, love seeing how you interpret shots and elements of film (I think I have become better at it since reading your blog though).

    This is on a side note but thought to bring it up here concerning your "In Character" posts, first do you ever consider revisiting actors/actresses? I was looking at your Woody Harrelson's post yesterday and realized things like True Detective hadn't come out when you did that one (or at least I think so, I could be mistaken in which case forgive me). I've been watching the first season the last couple days and love him in it (During Senior Lunch Tomorrow (Friday) (Senior Lunch is basically off campus lunch at my high school and is only available on Fridays to Seniors) I'm going to go and buy the Blu-ray first season). Where it is possible you didn't like True Detective (I'm assuming you saw it), it seems like something that would be on your list. I was just wondering whether you ever gave any thought to revisiting some of your older "In Character" posts.

    Also, I'm not sure if you take suggestions for the "In Character" posts, but if you do I thought of a couple suggestions (and if you don't want to or don't think of them as character actors or anything it's fine). The first was Carey Mulligan, I think she is great in a lot of things and would love to see your opinion of her best roles (I have a feeling how the general list would go). And also Benicio Del Toro, which I could see an argument being made for him not being a character actor, but have been watching a lot of him lately and thought it would be cool to see Alex cover him in an "In Character" post. Again, just some ideas I'd love to see your opinions on, please don't feel as if you have to or anything, just if you do take suggestions I thought of a few. Again great post(s) on Thin Red Line, it has become one of my favorites so thanks for introducing me to it (I find myself thanking you all the time, my film knowledge and watching has exploded since finding your blog).

    1. Damn, Geordan, this is such a kind comment. Thank you so much. I’m thrilled that my blog has opened you up to new films. And man, what a great first Criterion to own. Easily one of my favorite films in my collection. Packed with so many great special features.

      I make it a point to not alter posts I’ve already written, only because I like to track the progress of my writing, you know? So barring typos and factual errors (which I do correct), I usually don’t re-edit old posts. Although I LOVED True Detective and it contains one of Woody’s best performances, no doubt.

      I always take suggestions on my In Character posts! I’m so happy people offer them up. Carey Mulligan is a great choice, I’ll definitely cover her soon. Benicio Del Toro is one that I can’t believe I haven’t covered yet. No excuse for that one – he’s a terrific character actor, one of my favorite performers in the game. So I’ll definitely get to him soon! Thanks again for this comment, it means a lot to me.

  4. The Thin Red Line is definitely one of the best movies ever made, and you really reminded me of how much I love this film with these two posts. Thanks for that. Also, is it strange to say that given all of the great performances given by the actors in the film, I think Miranda Otto gives my favourite out of all of them? So brief, yet I couldn't get her out of my mind after I watched the film for the first time. I was so happy to see her in The Homesman.

    The Thin Red Line, I would classify that as an anti-war film specifically because of all of the humanity shown. I'm doing a Palme d'Or project on Letterboxd, and my most recent film was M*A*S*H, another fantastic anti-war film, and I just want to give a recommendation: you should make a top ten list featuring the best anti-war films.

    1. I don't think it's strange at all that Otto gives your favorite performance. Other than the villagers, she's the only female in the whole movie, and she captivates us with her stillness. And her little bit of narration is so haunting in its delivery. Oh god, it just kills me.

      The anti-war list is a good idea for sure. I'll have to give that one some thought. Sometimes, it can be tough to figure out which films are specifically anti-war.

  5. Again, great stuff man. The film's a masterpiece, no doubt. And does anybody act yelling better than Nick Nolte? He's up there with the greats like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ray Winstone.

    1. Nolte has the yell to end all yells. He's just the best. You can feel the rage in his Col. Tall.

  6. Fantastic list for a fantastic movie. Now i really need to re-watch this again.

  7. The Thin Red Line is my favourite film. I saw it in theatres 9 times.

    One part I would have liked to see mentioned is at the end of the film when they're being debriefed by the new Captain (played by George Clooney).

    "Everything a lie. Everything you see, everything you hear. You're in a box. A moving box. They want you dead or in their line."

    Then the troops are walking by a grave as the voiceover says, "Only one thing a man can do: find something that's his, make an island for himself."

    Just as the one soldier looks away from the graves, a woman comes to view and looks at him just after he's looked away.

    "If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes and my life will be yours."

    1. Love this comment. So happy to find other die-hard fans of this film. That is a great moment you called out there. Makes me want to watch that scene again immediately.