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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 132,403 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:





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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
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Did You Know?


Billy Bob Thornton recorded a narration for the three-hour-plus epic under the supervision of director Terrence Malick. However, the final print of the film has voice-overs by eight of the main characters in the film; none of the narration from Thornton is in the final print. In addition, several other stars who filmed scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen, Martin Sheen, and Mickey Rourke. See more »


Before the flanking assault on the Japanese bunker, a wire is visible, and apparently attached to a US soldier/ stuntman, as he is engulfed in a mortar round explosion (apparently to simulate the jerking force of the impact). 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 »


Referenced in State of Play: Episode #1.4 (2003) See more »


In Paradisum
from "Requiem"
Composed by Gabriel Fauré
Performed by Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Conducted by Armin Jordan
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

A haunting exploration of the meanings of life, death and war through the eyes of a group of disenchanted soldiers
2 November 2001 | by (Brisbane, Australia) – See all my reviews

This is one of the most beautifully crafted and haunting films that I have ever seen. Not only is the amazing ensemble cast give truly beautiful, effective performances, but the direction and cinematography combines to create a magnificent visual and mental feast.

This story about the Guadalcanal campaign during WW2, based on the James Jones novel, weaves the lives of many characters together seemlessly, creating a philosophical/emotional experience of war. It's not just about war. It's about love, faith in yourself and others, friendship, humanity, morality and also works as a startling indictment of man's conflict with nature. The amazing opening sequence, sets up a tranquility as the character Witt, finds peace on a secluded island among the natives, a peace which is shattered by the war.

What follows is not a mindless battle-after-battle onslaught of pyrotechnics, smoke, dust and blood, but a thought-provoking, visually and verbally poetic analysis of war and humanity. In my opinion it is the greatest war film since Apocalypse now, which I believe bears more flaws than this. It's not an Us-and-Them war story about the glory of the USA defeating the evil Japs. It sticks close with the characters, as we hear the thoughts, their hopes, their fears, leading to a moving experience.

This film was released a few months after Saving Private Ryan and unfortunately did not experience the same attention that the latter film did. Ryan was an excellent film, but to offer a comparison, The Thin Red LIne treads where Ryan didn't dare. Ryan sat in the safe territory of Good vs Evil with a bit of Futility of War and a lot of American Patriotism. It seemed to be more about America at some points than about war. The Thin Red Line is about war, the people involved and the destruction it creates for the mind, the soul and for nature. It does not deviate from this to make simple contrasts and offer easy binary oppositions.

In fact, TTRL is not an easy film. Gasp, it even tries to make you think. Though the title is not really explained in the film, I believe it is implied, and could have many meanings - the line between sanity and insanity, morality and immorality, love and hate, companionship and loneliness, nature and man, war and peace. While the characters share their thoughts, deeply poetic as they are, the meaning is not thrown in your face and neither is the answer to the questions raised. In this way it is the most thought-provoking war film I've ever seen and one of the best films of all time in my book. Top ten easily.

Now to my whinge. I think TTRL was shunned unmercifully at the 1999 Oscars. Shakespeare in Love beat two brilliant films - TTRL and Elizabeth - to get that oscar, and don't get me started on Gwyneth's award. This is the best film of 1998/9, in line with Elizabeth. It's unfortunate that the two, thoug h greatly revered, did not achieve the success and attention they deserved.

Don't be afraid by its length, it's a beautiful journey, full of rich colour, sound and the reward is a deeply moving human experience, unlike any other that the past decade has offered.

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