Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Post - Athens, OH
The independent newspaper covering campus and community since 1911.
The Post

Cold Corner: You're wrong about war movies

Few films stand as divisive as those labeled under the war genre. Audiences ease into dramas, romances and even westerns with familiarity and eagerness. With war, many turn away from its grizzly portrayals and gruesome realities. Observing humanity’s worst features is not always entertaining and deservedly so. 

In addition to the gory material, war movies are regarded as action-packed and shallow. Some may even assert the genre only ennobles war’s tragedies; meanwhile, this hasn’t been true for quite some time now. 

For decades, war didn’t reach the public eye without biased propaganda. Films glorified combat and falsely depicted a brutal struggle as a light-hearted affair. There were outliers such as the masterclass “All Quiet On The Western Front” (1931); however, such revealing movies weren’t mainstream until the turn of the 21st century. 

Terrance Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” is one such masterpiece from the time. It redefines the genre. Adapted from James Jones’ 1962 novel of the same name, “The Thin Red Line” explores a fictional company’s experience while fighting the Battle of Guadalcanal during WWII. 

In poetic detail, Malick explores war’s many ironies with intimate storytelling and immersive visuals, which elevate “The Thin Red Line” to unparalleled comparison. Anti-war sentiments are in almost every contemporary war film, but none are as intricate.

Exemplifying this revelation are the interwoven natural atmospheres and personal anecdotes. Breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring can’t begin to detail their impact. War momentarily ceases as love intercuts. For every bullet fired and bloody casualty endured, there’s an ounce of peace.

Another distinctive flair to “The Thin Red Line” is nature. It takes root in every corner of the film. Whether it's the jungle canopy or the waterside, Malick expresses the island setting's ornate beauty to an extent that one may confuse this war film for a scenic documentary.

No matter the environment, “The Thin Red Line” looks magnificent. The cinematography contains both simplistic compositions and elaborate movements. Combat is wide-scale and traumatic, while nature is close and endearing, further proving Malick’s multi-layered storytelling.

For “The Thin Red Line’s” numerous filmmaking and philosophical hallmarks, its acting goes remarkably underrated. Never before, nor ever again will there be such a star-studded cast. Headed by Jim Cavizel, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson and Adrian Brody, this glimpse into Guadalcanal contains so many gripping performances.

Hard-hitting one-liners and extended monologues often fill war movies; however, “The Thin Red Line” exchanges these cliches for voiceovers and subtle performances. The strong philosophical questioning and reflections about war hit hard from James Jones’ direct writing. For example, one such narration questions war directly: “This great evil, where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this?”

Amongst this wide array of memorable acting, two storylines are especially remarkable: Pvt. Witt (Jim Cavizel) and Pvt. Bell (Ben Chaplin). Despite their cannon fodder position as regular infantry grunts, their conviction of death, love and the afterlife cement them as central counterpoints to war’s methodical meat grinder. 

“The Thin Red Line” does what few other war movies do: throw the audience into the battle. It is one thing to observe war, but it is another thing to feel it. Combining immersive storytelling, entrancing filmmaking and realistic performances, this film puts the audience in the boots of another soldier on the battlefield. 

Not only does the audience feel the fear of the troops, they know it. They’re placed right in their fatigues, on that grassy hillside. They’re sweating. They’re anxious. They are on, “a thin red line between the sane and the mad.”

War is hell. No one should ever endure it. However, generations of men and women have laid down their lives for a country, a cause. While its traumatic experiences shouldn’t haunt our lives, we should grow to appreciate the sacrifice paid. War movies can never fully encapsulate the true realities of battle, but “The Thin Red Line” comes close.

Eli Kaltenecker is a sophomore studying film at Ohio University. Please note that the opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Eli about his article? email him at

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2016-2024 The Post, Athens OH