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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 132,533 users   Metascore: 78/100
Reviews: 1,444 user | 154 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?


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 »


When PFC. Doll shoots the Japanese soldiers (who are going on the hill carrying a machine gun), the first shots he fires we see his face. His rifle recoils significantly, but when it shows the scene behind his back, his rifle does not recoil at all. 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 »


Spoofed in The Thin Pink Line (1998) 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

every man fights his own war...
17 May 2000 | by (los angeles) – See all my reviews

what many people do not know is that this film, directed by terence malick, is without question the reason that Shakespeare in Love won the best picture oscar over the much favored Saving Private Ryan. why am i saying this? first let's deal with the movie. long? yes. too much? sometimes. but is it good? i can not begin to describe the beauty of this film.

about the oscars, i only watched the film after its surprise nomination for best picture. i had seen the competition already, and it was time to check out the fifth nominee. i went to the theatre myself, and came out three hours later, went home, and i cried. not only because i was disturbed, but i loved every single character in the film. i wanted to be there for them, cry with them, fight their battle. many people who have watched the film have said the same thing to me.

the Thin Red Line is sometimes painful to watch, but only because of its realistic juxtaposition of humanity, philosophy, and the terror of war. the film does not delve into any historical fact about Guadalcanal, except that the battle itself was terrifying (as is any battle). the characters introduce themselves through voice-over narration, which accompanies much of the action. and speaking of action, there is not much in the film. more images. images of war and the lives these soldiers left behind. this was Terence Malick's intent, of course, and many people were insulted and thought it was his own pretentious self getting the best of him. "boy he's a genius.. must he show it??" sometimes it is a little pretentious, but the film would've been "just another WWII film" if it was out of Malick's hands.

i can not understand why Sean Penn is billed as the top actor or the main character of this film. he was there a lot, but the film is carried by Jim Caviezel as the beautiful and ethereal private Witt. words can not describe this performance. with as few lines as he had, Caviezel portrays the symbolic soul of Witt, and by the end of the film he will break your heart. also excellent performances from Nick Nolte and the understated Elias Koteas, who can stretch creepy (Crash) to sympathetic in the blink of an eye.

now.. let's consider hollywood. sure they love Spielberg, and sure Private Ryan was a masterpiece (and it really was), but nobody even expected the Thin Red Line to get seven oscar nods, especially for best picture. but Shakespeare in Love was the crowd pleaser, and the other two were epic war films. most hollywood "artsy" people are anti-war.. kind of like the Thin Red Line. Private Ryan seemed to be MUCH more patriotic "pro-america" than the other. so if we've got anti-war on one side, and patriotism on the other... open and shut. the votes were split between the two, and Shakespeare emerged victorious. too bad.

anyway... the Thin Red Line was definitely better than Shakespeare, and definitely a completely different film from Spielberg's. John Toll's cinematography and Hans Zimmer's score work together to convey the tone of Malick's lyrical and poetic direction, and both should have won oscars. this film is nothing short of breath-taking, though understandably not for the average american moviegoer.

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