Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Thin Red Line


Terence Malick made two films in the ‘70s: Badlands in 1973, and Days of Heaven in 1978. Both of them were awesomely good. And then he retired from directing. For twenty years. He was writing all that time, but not shooting film. Then he announced that he was going to be making this film, from the novel by James Jones, who also wrote From Here to Eternity. This book was about the taking of Guadalcanal by the U.S. Army. A big deal, a very big deal.

Every actor in Hollywood wanted to be in on it. Many offered to deeply cut their fees, or even to work for nothing. The casting office was so inundated that they shut down, not accepting any more auditions. So, how’s this for a cast: William Baldwin, Edward Burns, Josh Hartnett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert Redford, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman, Mickey Rourke, Lukas Haas, and Viggo Mortensen. Pretty impressive, right? Only that’s not the cast, that is actors who filmed scenes and then were left on the cutting room floor! I don’t think anything like that has ever happened. Sure, smaller actors sometimes get cut, but Robert Redford? Unbelievable! The first edit was five hours long, so something had to go. The final film runs almost three hours.

And it is a masterpiece. It does for the war in the Pacific what Saving Private Ryan did for the war in Europe. It puts you right into the bowel-clenching, terrifying action like no films before them ever had. Ironically, both those films came out in the same year, and so went head to head at Oscar time. And the Best Picture of the Year is … Shakespeare in Love? Which is a fine little movie, I loved it, but this was the worst travesty at the Academy Awards since Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Putting them side by side, I guess I’d give the edge to Saving Private Ryan, but it would be a close thing.