The Thin Red Line

   

 

                        There's not some other world out there where everything's gonna be okay.    

                                    There's just this one, just this rock.

 

When the film opens, US Army Privae Witt, is AWOL from his unit and living with Melanesian natives in the South Pacific. He is found and imprisoned on a troop carrier by his company First Sergeant, Welsh. In Welsh's conversation with Witt, it is clear that the private is unenthusiastic about serving in the army.

The men of C Company have been brought to Goadalcanal as reinforcements in the campaign to seize the island from the Japanese. As they wait in the holds of a Navy transport, they contemplate their lives and the impending invasion. On deck, Lt Colonel Tall talks with his commanding officer, Brig General Quintard, about the invasion and its importance. Tall's voice over reveals that he has been passed over for promotion and this battle may be his last chance to command a victorious operation.

C Company lands on Guadalcanal unopposed and hikes to the interior of the island, encountering little evidence of a Japanese presence at all. At one point they find the mutilated bodies of two G.I.s. They arrive near Hill 210, a key Japanese position. The Japanese have placed a bunker housing several machine guns at the top of the hill, giving them full view of the valley below. Any force attempting to climb the hill can be easily cut down by machine-gun fire and mortar rounds.

A brief shelling of the hill begins the next day at dawn. Shortly after, C Company attempts to take the hill and are repulsed by gunfire from the bunker. Among the first killed in the battle is the leader of the attacking platoon, Second Lieutenant Whyte. During the battle, Colonel Tall fiercely orders his field officer, Cap Staros to take the bunker by frontal assault, whatever the cost. Staros refuses, not wanting his men to be cannon fodder. When the two reach a stalemate, Tall decides to join Staros on the front line to see the situation for himself. By the time he arrives, the Japanese resistance seems to have lessened, and Tall's opinion of Staros seems to have been sealed. Also, during the battle, Pvt. Witt, having been assigned punitively as a stretcher bearer, asks to rejoin the company, and is permitted to do so.

A small detachment of men perform a reconnaissance mission on Tall's orders to determine the strength of the Japanese bunker. Private Bell reports back that there are five machine guns in the bunker. He joins another small detachment of men, led by Captain Gaff, on a mission to take the bunker. The operation is a success and the rest of C Company are then able to overrun one of the last Japanese strongholds on the island. They are successful in this regard; the Japanese they find are largely malnourished, dying and put up little resistance.

A long stretch of the story then centers on the personal lives and moral views of the men. Staros is relieved of his command for disobeying Tall's orders. Tall nevertheless promises to recommend Staros for several decorations and JAG duty in Washington DC he does not want the unit's name to be stained by the fact of having an officer removed from command. Elsewhere, Private Bell receives a letter from his wife asking him for a divorce. Witt leaves the company to find another native village, only to find that his sense of peace in such places has been shaken, as he sees that even here there is horror and evil. He returns to the company before his departure has been noted. A conversation involving Sgt. Welsh and Witt follows, revealing that Welsh is unhappy around other people. The scene highlights Witt's devotion to the spark of light and glory he sees in people, even in death.

The unit is sent out on another mission further into the interior of the island. Witt and two other men, Cpl. Fife and Pvt. Beade, are sent out but find that their unit is heavily outnumbered and must retreat, however, getting word back to Lt Band (Paul Gleeson), who has replaced Staros as the Company Commander, will be difficult since they are surrounded. Witt decides to act as a decoy and lure the Japanese away from his two companions and the rest of their unit. He succeeds in drawing the Japanese away, but in the course of retreating, is surrounded when he runs into a small clearing. Prohibited from taking prisoners but unwilling to kill without honor, a Japanese soldier asks Witt to lower his gun because he does not wish to kill him unlike Witt who has killed many of the Japanese soldier's friends. He raises his rifle and is instantly shot. The unit later finds his body and buries it on the island. The film ends with another new commanding officer taking over C Company and giving wishful speeches on what his command would like to be, as some paternalistic protection in a family, and the campaign coming to a close with the unit boarding transport ships to leave the island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Movie Script

Directed by Terrence Malick
Produced by Robert Michael Geisler
Grant Hill
John Roberdeau
Written by Terrence Malick
James Jones
Starring Sean Penn
Adrien Brody
Jim Caviezel
Ben Chaplin
George Clooney
John Cusack
Woody Harrelson
Elias Koteas
Nick Nolte
John C. Reilly
John Travolta
Dash Mihok
Music by Hans Zimmer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 25, 1998
Running time 170 minutes
Language English
Budget $52,000,000 (est.)

 

 

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