The major problem with this movie, the one thing that hinders it, are the ambiguous reflection scenes. They don’t make sense to me, I don’t know what they mean. And I don’t think Malick knew either. I think that because they are too scatter-brained but also, if you read the trivia for this movie, Malick spent months on end on the phone with his producers discussing ‘what the movie is about’. Now a real film maker wouldn’t need to chew on premise, with other people no less, for months on end. He’ll know right away what it means. Done deal. I mean, several times one particular private ponders the universe with a soothing narrative drawl. Then when we cut back to the movie, the guy’s personal objective in life is to find a nice pistol and shout ‘I got one!’ So which is he? Materialist grunt or budding philosopher? This kind of thing is called pretense, being passionate about a message despite not having one.
Chip away the bullshit though, much of which was probably shot when Malick was half-baked, and there is 1 hour and 50 minutes or so of a pretty solid war movie. On top of the eye candy aesthetics, a large part of this is down to Nick Nolte. The man gives a thundering performance that dominates the screen and cast with a gravitas so much more powerful than Tom Hanks’ character in Private Ryan. The scene where Nolte takes Elias Kotias’ Cpt. aside and quietly demotes him quite frankly rivals or is superior to the very best scenes of Saving Private Ryan. It’s truly powerful and probably would’ve been deemed too ‘real’ for the crowd pleasing rivals of this movie. Now, when I watch this movie, I’m hooked on Nolte’s every word. The combat scenes aren’t half bad either and if you throw in Zimmer’s best score to date and you have a classic in the hands of a good editor.
The movie ages well, despite the notable side effect of Malick-isms (i.e. bloated nothingness), there’s still plenty of good war film to be found here. Also, I really wonder what the longer cut is like. I wish they’d release it. So despite being a little bit up its own ass, I have a developing fascination with this movie.