It's going to be hard for most future war movies to measure up to Private Ryan. Not only was Ryan a finely-crafted, realistic portrayal of war. But it was also a story that fit well into the Hollyweird movie format.
The Thin Red Line was generally a slow, contemplative movie interspersed with a few action scenes. About halfway through the movie there's the big battle scene that is shown in the previews, a secondary battle soon after that, and a much smaller action near the end. In between those are a lot of attempts at character development with narration by the current character. One character was given a lot of flashbacks to his wife. And there were a lot of lengthy shots up at the sun through the leaves. At times, it seemed like every third cut went to a twenty second leaf shot and then on to the next shot.
I'm trying not to compare/contrast this movie to Private Ryan, but I did want to mention the battle scenes. The battle scenes were much more conventional than in Private Ryan. Much less handheld, and none of the hyper-real feeling that the high shutter speed gave Ryan. This movie had many fixed-camera shots of people getting shot or hit by mortar fire as they run by the camera. Some dolly or steadycam shots of the same. Somehow those set-piece shots make it harder to follow the course of the battle. Somehow, it feels too much like stuntmen going through this and not like the real thing. That disconnect hurts the continuity of the battles and hurts the verisimilitude.
The biggest problem with this movie was that there were too many characters with too many stories. All the stories just didn't fit into a movie. I think they were trying to show how different people deal with the insanity of war. Except for Nolte, with whom they appeared to be trying to show his motivations. The constant change of focus from one character to another made it too difficult to follow. There's a character at the beginning who we learn goes AWOL a lot. For much of the first half of the movie he appears to be the main character. But as we approach the battle he appears on screen less and less. Part of this time we're focusing on Nick Nolte, but it's pretty obvious he's not the main character. Neither is Sean Penn. During most of the battle, the guy with a wife and the Captain get a lot of screen time. John Cusack plays a big role, and then disappears. After the battle, it's about even between the married guy and the first guy. The Captain is removed from the story and Nick Nolte simply isn't heard from. And then the movie just sort of peters out.
Interspersed with all of this are the secondary characters. But somehow these characters appear too prominent, and again they break up the continuity. They take the time to show one character steal a pistol while onboard the troop transport. It seems like that should be a big deal. Later in the movie, one character does end up with a pistol. I'm not sure if it was the same character, because we didn't know him at the beginning. And the pistol really doesn't play that large a part in the later scene. It's just kind of there. So that early plant just comes across as confusing. And there are several other characters that give the impression that they're about to reveal something profound and then nothing happens.
Just too many characters. Too many points of view. No clear direction to the movie as a whole.
I may look up some reviews of the book. A book is usually a much better vehicle for digging into people's heads. It might be interesting to know what the writers had intended.
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Rental with Dinner. Very different from what I expected. A potentially good theme, but the story lacked cohesion and just didn't fit the movie format well.
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