Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Thin Red Line

Looking forward to 'The New World' (and the new 2-hour cut) I sat down for a refresher with Malick's previous films. I had been planning to write about 'Days of Heaven,' but ended up getting out of sorts during the viewing.

With 'Days' a bust, I got around to 'The Thin Red Line.' Seeing it again I find it anemic.

(1) The faces. Jared Leto. Woody Harrelson. Ben Chaplin. Elias Koteas. Nick Stahl. Jim Caviezel. Penn. Clooney. And some ugly extras to provide "realist" modulation. The star lineup betrays Hollywood glamour willing to "sacrifice" the terms of the typical easy shoot to "work hard" for a "brilliant director." The result is a battalion of pussies, star-pupils working toward the proverbial 'A'-for-effort.

(2) John Travolta. What goes on in this man's mind when he steps in front of a camera? What force does he believe he's channeling? Was his the main name that convinced Fox to come aboard with the money? No wonder that scene stayed in the picture, the one with him and --

(3) Nick Nolte. At what point did Malick decide to let go of the reins, and let the meditation-on-Man-in-war become a simple Hollywood war-film, rife with archetypes, clichés, artery-popping "GODDAMMIT!!!"s every six seconds? Nolte's performance is the crux of this crust -- playing Colonel Kilgore and Buck Turgidson and every other movie-military zealot out of the collective memory, he sputters unchecked by the director who, by the way, it's inconceivable to surmise is supplying "meta"-commentary on The Hollywood War Film at any point in the fiasco. Seeing Woody Harrelson's histrionic order-barking, followed by a ridiculous scene in which, his genitals blown off by a grenade, Woody moans "I can't fuck no more!" in some meaningless perversion of Kubrick, only added to my impression that Malick pretty much let the troupe go freestyle. "Terry's great to work with; he lets you try out anything..."

(4) The editing. The collage effect works to the advantage of the film, providing rhythm to the mise en scène's main idea of "man as organic occurrence," while all the cutting-away-and-back in the battle sequences works to the film's disadvantage -- or rather, to the disadvantage of any exploration of the equal human presence on both sides of any conflict. The Japanese here are Japs -- gibbering, fervent, Other; the Americans are post-trauma sadists, whose here-and-there murders of soon-to-be-prisoner Japanese -after- the firefight clears gets covered up by the filmmaker (because the troops "know not what they do"? in order to convey the consequences of "the heat of the moment" in which the perpetuation of life becomes a willy-nilly thing?), not only by means of the indistinctness of the smoke, fog, and mud, but by the reduction of these acts to downright visual sluice: a jarring, arrhythmic montage wherein the murder act (money-shot) gets sandwiched in a 3- to 4-second collision of masters, angles, and inserts, and is granted literally no more than 4 or 5 frames before a cut out to the next sequence. -- Small wonder the DVD is branded under "Fox War Classics."

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