Director: Terence Malick
Writers: James Jones (Novel), Terence Malick
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas
Terence Malick's adaptation of James Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during second world war. It was Terence Malick returning to film-making after a 20-year absence. It looks like some of the stars from Hollywood lined up to get involved in it somehow and you get the likes of John Travolta and George Clooney in the film albeit for just one scene each.
In most of the war films we have certain characters through whom we see the whole story and it is true for almost all films even. So you get characters doing brave things in a hellish environment and this will be the treatment even when the film is anti-war in nature. TTRL do away with this by having almost all the characters being peripheral to what the war is doing to the place and people involved, at least for the first two-thirds of the film. They are just meat/dirt and the film manages to convey the senselessness of the whole thing. The whole thing is set against scenic locales and typically contemplative Malickian 'Leaf' scenes (the Michael Haneke parody account on twitter which makes fun of Malick's tropes is hilarious). This first two thirds of the film is its best part ending with the storming of Japanese hold which will get you emotional because of their condition. They could have really done away with the rest of the film where it kind of falls back into traditional narrative with the characters played by Jim Caviezel and Sean Penn given a bit more screen-time with the former doing a brave suicidal thing giving the film a natural end point. It would have worked very well if they had ended the film with their Captain being shifted out by the politicking Colonel, played excellently by Nick Nolte. Maybe it was a case of Malick staying true to the source material.
As far as war films go, this is certainly one of the best. I had seen it for the first time some four years back and on second viewing my impression of it have come down a bit. The length of it could have been significantly reduced by doing away with the last one third of it and some of the contemplative shit doesn't work very well for this film like it did in 'Tree of Life'. Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' also came out in 1998 and Malick's film is vastly superior to it. It is like comparing 'Breaking Bad' to 'The Wire' and if you know your onions, you will know which corresponds to which.
Overall it is great film and as far as anti-war film goes it is a unique one in the sense that it doesn't go for comedy (Full Metal Jacket) and doesn't have a central character/s focus (Paths of Glory, Platoon). Based on what I have seen Terence Malick's first two films, Badlands & Days of Heaven, are his best. I have only seen 'Tree of Life' from his post 2000 works and based on the reaction to his latest ones it does seem it was best when he stuck to quality over quantity.