The Thin Red Line

1998 Drama

The return of director Terrence Malick to feature filmmaking after a twenty year sabbatical, this World War II drama is an elegiac rumination on man's destruction of nature and himself, based on James Jones' semi-autobiographical novel, his follow-up to From Here to Eternity. James Caviezel stars as Private Witt, a deserter living in peace and harmony with the natives of a Pacific island paradise. Captured by the Navy, Witt is debriefed by a senior officer (Sean Penn) and returned to an active duty unit preparing for what will be the Battle of Guadalcanal. As Witt goes ashore in the company of his fellow soldiers, they meet diverse fates. Sergeant Keck (Woody Harrelson) is killed by an exploding grenade. Captain John Gaff (John Cusack) is an intelligent, sober leader facing the destruction of his command because his commanding officer Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) is bucking for a general's star. Sergeant McCron (John Savage) loses his mind. Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) gets a "Dear John" letter from his beloved wife. However, as the U.S. troops advance up grassy slopes toward entrenched Japanese positions, it is Witt's voiced-over ruminations on life, death, and nature that are the real heart and soul of The Thin Red Line (1998). Adrien Brody appears as Private Fife, the major character of Jones' novel and the author's alter-ego, although Fife has been relegated to a minor supporting role by Malick's filmed adaptation. more..

Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin,George Clooney


  • Unique and courageous. It may be counted as one of the year's few steps forward in cinema.

    Mick LaSalle - The San Francisco Chronicle

    11 May 2013

  • One of the most curious and perversely brilliant films ever made in the American studio system. It's a shining example of qualities we don't normally see in our big theatrical pictures: vast ambition, huge resources and technical genius mated to a unique and compelling vision of life.

    Michael Wilmington - The Chicago Tribune

    11 May 2013

  • The movie's schizophrenia keeps it from greatness (this film has no firm idea of what it is about), but doesn't make it bad. It is, in fact, sort of fascinating: a film in the act of becoming, a field trial, an experiment in which a dreamy poet meditates on stark reality.

    Roger Ebert - The Chicago Sun-Times

    11 May 2013

  • Although the story seems disjointed at times, no other war movie has tried so valiantly to convey not only the suffering of combat but the awful fissures it leaves between humanity's ideal oneness with itself and the world we live in.

    David Sterritt - Christian Science Monitor

    11 May 2013

  • An epic aestheticization of World War II, a movie at once bold and baffling, immediate and abstract.

    Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly

    11 May 2013


  • Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role in a Feature Film

    ALMA Awards (1999)

  • Best Cinematography

    Academy Awards (1999)

  • Best Edited Feature Film

    American Cinema Editors (1999)

  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases

    American Society of Cinematographers (1999)

  • Terrence Malick

    Australian Film Institute (1999)