Tony Black’s review:
Guadalcanal is arguably one of the oft-forgotten theatres of conflict from the Second World War, which as the setting to The Thin Red Line only serves to make the film that much more memorable. The main reason, of course, is that this was Terrence Malick's long awaited return to movie making after a twenty year gap; a war epic in every sense of the word, from narrative to length to casting to scope, but it also must ultimately sit on its own as one of the least conventional depictions of war in cinema, and perhaps by that one of the most moving.
Sure, we get enough conflict thrown into the mix, and Malick doesn't shy away from battle - he throws the heavy ensemble into the mix numerous times, directing with a visceral bravery that will leave you feeling as terrified and helpless as the US forces battling in the middle of the jungle; people die and it's brutal, sad and uncompromising. Yet what Malick does is frame this helplessness, this horror, through a near romantic view of nature - he'll cut to trees, to wildlife, to lush valleys or flowing waterfalls, which speak almost to the degree our characters do. Not many directors can be described as filming art but you can say that with Malick - his snail pace may put some off but his cinematography is divine, you'll be hard pushed to find such beauty in any other war film. He's interested less, too, in conventional narrative or character arcs as he is his players saying something about human nature, or in many cases saying very little and letting things communicate around them - exemplified by Jim Caviezel's private with a simpatico for the natives their war touches. He (and Ben Chaplin's lonely fellow private) are as close to main characters as the piece gets, a brace of formidable actors filling out the ranks, some just in cameos - Sean Penn, John Travolta, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, Woody Harrelson - but Elias Koteas as an idealistic platoon captain and Nick Nolte as a staunch, slightly manic colonel stood out the best for me, made the greatest impression.
A sensual look at war, the mind of men and nature then from Malick, which any lover of cinema should witness for its ideas, its concepts and the fact Malick will be discussed by film students for many a generation to come. And while it's perhaps at times a shade too slow and long for its own good, it paints a vivid, haunting yet elegiac and beautiful vision of war, aided by a quite beautiful score by Hans Zimmer and a range of committed performances.