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The Thin Red Line (1998)

R  |   |  Drama, War  |  15 January 1999 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 132,487 users   Metascore: 78/100
Reviews: 1,444 user | 153 critic | 32 from Metacritic.com

Terrence Malick's adaptation of James Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during the second World War.



(novel), (screenplay)
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Nominated for 7 Oscars. Another 19 wins & 39 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Marty Bell
Pfc - Beade


In World War II, the outcome of the battle of Guadalcanal will strongly influence the Japanese advance into the Pacific theater. A group of young soldiers is brought in as a relief for the battle-weary Marines. The exhausting fight for a strategically-positioned airfield that allows control over a 1000-mile radius puts the men of the Army rifle company C-for-Charlie through hell. The horrors of war form the soldiers into a tight-knit group; their emotions develop into bonds of love and even family. The reasons for this war get further away as the world for the men gets smaller and smaller until their fighting is for mere survival and the life of the other men with them. Written by Julian Reischl <julianreischl@mac.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Every man fights his own war.


Drama | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for realistic war violence and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





| | |

Release Date:

15 January 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La delgada línea roja  »

Box Office


$52,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$223,548 (USA) (25 December 1998)


$36,385,763 (USA) (7 May 1999)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The majority of soldiers' names are only one syllable long: Tall (Nick Nolte), Fife (Adrien Brody), Witt (Jim Caviezel), Gaff (John Cusack), Welsh (Sean Penn). See more »


In one of the flashback scenes where the soldier and his girlfriend are holding hands, modern cars can be seen out the window in the background. See more »


[first lines]
Private Edward P. Train: What's this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Composer Wrangler. . . Moanike'ala Nakamoto See more »


References Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) See more »


The Unanswered Question
Composed by Charles Ives
Performed by The Orchestra of St. Luke's
Conducted by John Adams
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

A diagnosis
8 April 2000 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The greatest fault of The Thin Red Line was its timing - it was released at around the same time as Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. While most people dismissed The Thin Red Line as the `other' World War II movie of 1998, it's actually a very different kind of film - the film itself is not hurt by similarity to Ryan but was hurt commercially due to the misconception. It's easy to forget that Red was nominated for seven Oscars. This is an extraordinary film that can stand well on its own next to Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan was significant in that it visually depicted war in a realistic, gritty way. The Thin Red Line's focus is more philosophical. It is about the contradiction between the beauty of nature and the destructive nature of men. The movie cuts continuously between the external struggle of American GIs fighting to take a crucial hill from Japanese occupation on Guadalcanal - and more importantly, the internal chaos of war as every man tries to come to his own terms about matters such as morals, death, God, and love.

Unlike in Saving Private Ryan, there is nothing patriotic about this movie. In fact, there probably has never been a more anti-war film. The fighting men here are disillusioned, lost, and frightened. They don't fight for their country or "democracy" - they fight because they have to. The only priorities are survival, and - for the more humane - caring for their comrades. Renowned composer Hans Zimmer - who won an Oscar nomination for his work-captures the grim mood perfectly and allows us to hear the men's thoughts.

The characters are portrayed by a strong ensemble cast. Acting is uniformly excellent, especially Nick Nolte as Colonel Tall, who is the unfeeling commander of the ground offensive on Guadalcanal. Thoroughly unlikable, he is the closest thing to a villain in the movie. After studying war for an untold number of years, Tall sees Guadalcanal as his chance to prove himself and move up in the ranks - the men are only a tool to accomplish this goal and expendable. In one crucial scene, he orders a captain (played by Elias Koteas, in another outstanding role) to lead his men to a frontal assault against a Japanese controlled hill. When the captain suggests a more logical alternative, the colonel screams: "You are not gonna take your men around in the jungle to avoid a goddamn fight!" To this, the captain replies, `I've lived with these men, sir, for two and a half years and I will not order them all to their deaths.' Later, when the hill is taken, he is dismissed of his duties as Tall sees him as a threat to the successful achievement of his goal. Certainly, not every commander must have been that coldhearted and selfish, but surely some were, though not necessarily to that extreme.

While the acting is very good, much of the cast is relatively unknown and it can initially be hard to distinguish the characters from each other as they may appear to be very similar. They are all about the same age, have dirt smeared over their faces, and wear helmets and the same military garb. Also, the stars in this movie have very small roles. George Clooney and John Travolta are credited with starring roles while really little more than extras - clearly for marketing purposes. You will not see more than two minutes of each.

One of the main themes of the movie is the contrast between nature and men's destructiveness in war. The director, Terrence Malick, hired cinematographer John Toll to capture this on camera, and towards achieving that goal they couldn't have been more successful. The almost surreal scenery is nothing short of stunning and has the same visual impact as any special effect. The beauty of nature is always present, even when it is a setting for battle of destruction, and death.

Though the battle scenes fall short of the frightening realism in Saving Private Ryan, they are heads and soldiers above every previous attempt. One truly gets the sense that war is a chaotic, often hopeless environment where it is only a matter of luck whether you survive or get killed.

`How did we lose the good that was given us? Or let it slip away? Scatter it carelessly ... trade it for what has no worth?' The film is filled with such poetic questions as to which there are no real answers. This is definitely not a party movie. There isn't anything uplifting about it - it is downright depressing. Asides from entertainment value, however, this is a film that makes you think.

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