Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]
Once Upon a Time in the West [1968, Sergio Leone]
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale.

My experience with Sergio Leone is limited. Out of his filmography, I have only seen The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, which I should probably watch again at some point. Once Upon a Time in the West bares a number of striking similarities to that epic — particularly its extended running time, masterful soundtrack and extraordinary cinematography. The opening scene alone, which has very little dialogue, captivated me from the start. Not much happened during this sequence, yet I was absolutely intrigued. The stunning shots of the wild west combined with extreme closeups of the characters’ faces were truly a thing of beauty.

It was also a lot of fun to see Henry Fonda play the villain, which is something I hadn’t seen him do before. Charles Bronson was excellent as his harmonica-playing adversary, and it was a real treat watching Claudia Cardinale as the dame caught up in the whole mess. While there was certainly a lot that I loved about the film, I was still a little turned off by the sheer longevity of it all. Leone sure loved to milk every scene as long as possible, and his attention to detail is extraordinary. I felt a little burned out by the end of the movie, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me. 8.5/10

The Thin Red Line [1998]
The Thin Red Line [1998, Terrence Malick]
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte.

Terrence Malick, seemingly a favorite director amongst movie bloggers, is someone I know I should become more familiar with. The Thin Red Line is the first film I have seen from him, and I figured this would be a great place to start, given my interest in World War II. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Mount Austen. We are introduced to a large ensemble cast of soldiers, including the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte and more. This is a really impressive group of guys, but the fact that so many were introduced made it considerably more difficult to get to know them. Outside of a few major characters, including a fantastic turn by Nolte, we learn little about most of these soldiers. In a way, however, this is just the way war is. Men are sent to perform their duties, and new faces are brought in to replace those who have fallen.

The Thin Red Line moves along at a very methodical pace, and I can see how this would deter some viewers. I didn’t mind this at all, as it gave us a chance to see Malick’s stunning shots of Guadalcanal, a beautiful island now interrupted with violent warfare. One thing that did bother me, at least somewhat, was an over-reliance on philosphophical voiceovers. I don’t have a problem with these in general, but they happened too often for my liking. Still, there’s no question that TTRL is a visually astonishing film that offers a completely different (and refreshing) take on WWII compared to 1998’s other big film, Saving Private Ryan. 8/10

9 thoughts on “Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

  1. Pete says:

    Loving your determination to get through these classics. I have a list that I’m not nearly as well with. Once Upon a Time in the West is on my list and it’s good to hear how highly you rated it!

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, Pete! It has been a pretty intense last couple months while trying to get through the last half of this project. I am down to just two left, and I will be posting my thoughts on the final ten all this week. It’s been a great ride, but I will be happy to have my freedom back when it’s over. 😀

  2. Kyle says:

    The best way I’ve heard to describe The Thin Red Line is that it’s a war film from the perspective of God, which to me is bang on. I’m almost caught up on Malick (still haven’t seen The Tree of Life) but this one is easily my favorite. Badlands is also awesome and Days of Heaven is stunningly beautiful. The New World gets a little tiresome (even more philosophical voice over), but the cinematography alone still makes it worth checking out.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Kyle, thanks for the comment! That is an interesting description of The Thin Red Line. I am looking forward in seeing more from Malick, and I will probably rent The Tree of Life within the next couple weeks. Badlands also looks intriguing, and that will likely be my next selection after that.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    The Thin Red Line is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen and one of Malick’s best in my opinion, even though he hasn’t really done all that much to have competition. Good review man.

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