In this mesmerizing film based on a 1962 novel of the same title by James Jones, writer and director Terrence Malick has imagined the World War II battle zone of Guadalcanal as a thin spot on earth where the membrane between the two worlds is very porous. On this island, the men at war are seized by dreams, visions, and hallucinations. Much of the screenplay consists of stream-of-consciousness monologues by various characters about nature, good and evil, love, pain, the fear of death, and the mystical oneness of all creation.
Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte) has been ordered to lead an Army infantry battalion against the Japanese who are entrenched in several crucial hills on Guadalcanal. It is his chance to prove his leadership abilities, and he will be ruthless in pursuit of glory. First Sergeant Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) is the cynical yet courageous leader of Charlie Company, a man who is both irked and intrigued by Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), a nonconformist who returns to fight after having gone AWOL to live with Melanesians in an idyllic Garden of Eden where the children have mastered the art of playing peacefully with each other.
In the film's most dramatic sequence, Captain Staros (Elias Koteas), the commander of Charlie Company, refuses Tall's order to send his men to certain death with a frontal assault on a hill defended by a Japanese bunker. This tense moment delineates the different kinds of courage which solders can exhibit under pressure. Other characters convey the fears, frustrations, and perils of combat, including Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) whose deepest wound comes not in battle but in a "Dear John" letter from his wife; McCron (John Savage) a sergeant who is mentally unhinged by the losses of his squad; and Private First Class Doll (Dash Mihok) who wants to be a hero.
The title of the film refers to an old Midwestern saying, "There's only a thin red line between the sane and the mad." Terrence Malick's lyrical and idiosyncratic screen adaptation of Jones's novel conveys the obscenity of war and the strange mixture of virtue and vice it draws out of men. The visionary quality of The Thin Red Line and the exotic cinematography of John Toll make this a most impressive and unusual film about men at war.
Special features include audio commentary by director Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll; audio commentary by cinematographer JohnToll, production designer Jack Fish, and producer Grant Hill; original theatrical trailer; interviews with several of the film's actors, including Kirk Acevedo, Jim Caviezel, Thomas Jane, Ehas Koreas, Dash Mihok, and Sean Penn, along with composer Hans Zimmer, editors Billy Weber, Leslie Jones, and Saar Kelin, and writer James Jones's daughter Kaylie Jones; new interview with casting director Dianne Crittenden, featuring archival audition footage; 14 minutes of outtakes; WWII newsreels from Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands; Melanesian chants.