Starring: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte, Dash Mihok, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, John Travolta, George Clooney
Director: Terrence Malick
Summary: Adaptation of James Jones’ autobiographical novel focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during World War II
Other Nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Dramatic Score, Sound, Cinematography, Film Editing
This was Terrence Malick’s first film in 20 years (his acclaimed Days of Heaven came out in 1978), so everyone wanted to be a part of it, and everyone was anticipating it-so did it live up to the hype? While I liked it, it missed an opportunity to be something truly special. This is a gorgeous looking film with stunning cinematography that I feel should have won even over the excellent work in Saving Private Ryan. The score from Hans Zimmer is another clear highlight. I would also say that while the cast was surprisingly average overall, Nick Nolte is great as the main CO; for an actor that I never really thought much of, he’s delivered two really strong dramatic performances (this and his leading role in The Prince of Tides).
The screenplay is the big mixed bag of the film though. If Saving Private Ryan was overly sentimental, this strips out every speck of it which certainly works well with its themes and is generally how I like my war movies. I thought the relationship between COs and regular infantry on the front lines in the movie was effective and the dynamic between Nolte and Koteas made for my favorite scenes in the movie. The big problem is that it’s pretentious and philosophical, but about what exactly? The basic message (war poisons the soul and creates numbness to violence for most, and it destroys the oneness and good of man) is clear, but we get so much navel gazing that it muddles everything in terms of giving real depth to those themes. While the script has problems, the movie looks and sounds so good that it’s worth watching on that basis alone and I would still recommend it.