Monday, October 24, 2005

"The Thin Red Line" by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick sees cinema as poetry, imagery, musical moments, and emotional phrases. As a filmmaker, he is one of a kind. If you ask Mr. Malick, "But what about drama?" You've shown yourself a stranger to Malick's unique style. For instance, he uses classical music in his movies; in "The Thin Red Line" it's the angelic chorus in the opening scene, which is from Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem"; in the case of his 1978 movie, "Days of Heaven", it's the ethereal "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns. Why don't film directors use classical music more often in movies? You ask in a chiding tone. I can't answer that. But don't pose that question to Terrence Malick.

The all-star cast in "The Thin Red Line" indicates that Hollywood has tremendous respect for Mr. Malick who famously left town to go into a 20-year self-imposed "exile" without directing a movie. The legend has it that Mr. Malick was upset about what he had to endure during the production of "Days of Heaven". But this star-studded cast could be problematic, as one senses that he got a headache just thinking about which character to focus on, and apparently the acting of Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, et all, looked too good to be cut out of the movie, so the result is something like a "Zen cinematic tone poem", which is my polite way of describing this film. Remember, Mr. Malick doesn't care much about drama, or drama as defined traditionally. He doesn't think that the characters should evolve, or that the narrative should have twists and turns. But I'm cool. Sometimes too much drama could be tiresome to watch.

Terrence Malick is a unique filmmaker not in the Godardian sense, in which experimentation is the king. His style is rather traditional. Here he wanted to make a movie about some brave soldiers in the Second World War and portray these men as sensitive, contemplative, and realistically vulnerable souls. That's fine. Until he got on the set, for the first time in 20 years, and there were all these Hollywood mega stars, like Travolta and Clooney, and not-too-mega stars, like Cusack, Harrelson, Savage, Brody, Caviezel, looking at him for direction, and then he got overwhelmed.

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