When the Criterion Collection DVD started off with a message from the director suggesting that it be played loud, I thought two things. First, Terrence Malick has never lived in an apartment building with neighbors who get mad over the smallest noise. (Seriously. My neighbors complained to the landlord last week when I was watching Parks and Recreation reruns. At nine o’clock.) Second, Terrence Malick has control issues. He obviously cares very much about his movie, but he doesn’t seem to realize that once it is out in the world, people will do what they please with it.
So what’s the story? This movie doesn’t exactly have a cohesive, concise storyline. It follows the progress of the Battle of Guadalcanal on the Solomon Islands during World War II, but through the points of view of many soldiers.
The Good: There were excellent performances from many people. Elias Koteas as the sympathetic captain and Ben Chapin as the man desperately in love with his wife were the ones who stood out for me, but that’s possibly because I sympathized with their characters the most. Nick Nolte was great as a slightly bitter career Army officer, Jim Caviezel fantastic as always as a lowly private, Sean Penn convincing as a crusty sergeant.
After I watched the movie, I did some research and found out that if Terrence Malick had had his way, this movie would have been six hours long. So I’m also going to give the editors props for cutting it down to the more manageable three hours.
The movie was beautiful, but that was a double-edged sword for me. I have a feeling that soldiers running away from the enemy don’t tend to notice the giant lizards clinging to trees and the flying foxes hanging in the branches overhead. Maybe I’m wrong. (Please tell me if I’m wrong; if you have experience with situations like this and you did notice, let me know!)
The Bad: They had Adrian Brody and he got to do nothing! All he did was look terrified in various positions: standing and looking terrified, crouching and looking terrified, kneeling and looking terrified. He’s such a good actor; it made me crazy that he didn’t really have a story.
I didn’t like the music, either. Yes, it was nice music (Hans Zimmer, even!), but it never seemed to underscore what was going on. I understand the concept of using music that contrasts the action to make it stand out starkly, but this movie didn’t do that for me. The music just made me think that they were trying to glorify war, like when glorious music played as the soldiers charged up the hill. The music that played as the American soldier told the Japanese soldier that the birds were going to come and eat him was just felt off-kilter. Much of the music did.
The Ugly: This movie was three freaking hours long. It got boring. There were too many characters who could be called main characters, so the movie wasn’t really about anyone. It was just a rather nebulous collection of things that happened to a bunch of people who were in the same place at the same time. I felt like this was a movie made to impress other movie makers, not for the general public. I have a list of works of art in my head that I can appreciate as being well done, but which I personally did not like. This movie has joined that list.
Oscars Won: None
Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best director; best writing, screenplay based on material previously produced or published; best cinematography; best sound; best film editing; best music, original dramatic score.