By Andrew Harwood
“War is hell.”
This Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman quote is a cliché, overused and bitter phrase, but it also perfectly sums up our theme this week. At its simplest, war is an armed conflict between states. But, at its most complex, war has ferocious, extensive bloodshed.
War has been around ever since humans could fight one another and it constitutes history itself. As with history, though, war has evolved from Roman chariots to chain-clad knights, from musket formations to machine guns, all the way to nuclear bombs.
Hollywood isn’t unfamiliar with wars, as directors, producers and writers alike have strung together classic dramatizations of battles and conflicts. In the past 40 to 50 years, war films have evolved from muscular action films to that of art dramas. In other words, nowadays and in the ‘90s, war films focused not on just battle, but how war affects those involved.
If I may be frank, war films are one of my favorite genres of film and satisfy the history nerd that I am. Given that, this piece was incredibly hard to write (more so, to choose just one film to analyze). But, after a few choice words directed at my computer and some three hours of no internet, I was able to do so.
I want to say right now that I will not be discussing “Saving Private Ryan.” It is a great film, but that’s really all I can say about it. Also, who wants to read another film student recommendation “Saving Private Ryan” for the umph-most time. You should definitely watch it, but now back to the feature.
Some of the greatest war films out there — and definite recommendations — are “Dunkirk,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Ran,” “Paths of Glory” and, our film for the week, “The Thin Red Line.”
Written and directed by Terrence Malick and adapted from the book by James Jones, “The Thin Red Line” depicts the Gudalcanal campaign of 1942 through the eyes of the 25th Infantry Division during World War II. Focusing specifically around the before and after of the Battle of Mount Austen, “The Thin Red Line” delves into the chaos, psychology and philosophy that was World War II.
What is perhaps most striking about “The Thin Red Line” is its imagery. The entire film is a dazzling spectacle of color and light, but it’s the surreal nature shots of the South Pacific that really make viewers feel like they’ve been transported to the humid jungle of Guadalcanal. You are indulged — almost enthralled — by this imagery that it isn’t until you are brought into a blood-ridden battle on a grass plain that you realize you are home and safe.
Featuring an ensemble cast including Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and Jared Leto, “The Thin Red Line” is a precious and daring glance into the minds and lives of some of the bravest men to ever live.
The film contains little dialogue, though: one of its best features. Dialogue should always be secondary to a war film’s action while accuracy is primary, given they are based upon real events. Yes, actors’ performances matter and they deliver the scene, but what we watch on screen is engraved deeper in our memories than an actor’s line after a battle.
“The Thin Red Line” is a beyond accurate depiction of war, because of its unconventional and unnatural style of filmmaking. Though this has been criticized by critics, to me, this is true to what an actual war experience would be: unnatural and chaotic. A successful war film should make you feel uncomfortable as well as fearful. If you sit through the Battle of the Peleliu with a grin on your face … it may be a good time to phone a friend.