Cast: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, John Travolta
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Terrence Malick), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrence Malick), Best Cinematography (John Toll), Best Film Editing (Billy Weber, Leslie Jones, Saar Klein), Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (Hans Zimmer), Best Sound (Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Paul Brincat)
SUMMARY: Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel), a private in the U.S. Army, has gone AWOL from his unit (yet again) and is living on an island in the Pacific among the natives. He is eventually found (again) by a superior, Sergeant Welsh (Sean Penn). As punishment, Witt is assigned to be a stretcher bearer on Guadalcanal, as the rest of his company takes part in the effort to secure Henderson Field. To their surprise, their landing is completely unopposed by the Japanese. However, as they advance inland they face stiff resistance from an enemy that is dug-in and well-fortified. C Company (including Witt and Welsh) is ordered to seize Hill 210, which is defended by Japanese in a concrete bunker operating machine guns. The attack is scheduled for the next day, and at dawn the Americans begin shelling the hill. After the salvo, C Company attacks but is quickly driven back by the unaffected Japanese. They suffer many casualties, including platoon leader Second Lieutenant Whyte and Sergeant Keck (Woody Harrelson), who accidentally detonates his own grenade. The remaining company members take cover. Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte), who is in charge of the operation, orders company commander Captain James Staros to attack the hill, regardless of casualties. Staros refuses, unwilling to sacrifice his men in what he knows is a suicide mission. After repeated (failed) attempts to force Staros to attack, Tall agrees to come to the front line and assess the company’s position. By the time he has arrived, much of the fighting has died down; Tall takes this as a sign that Staros was simply afraid to attack. As ordered, Witt has served as a stretcher bearer, but asks Tall for permission to rejoin the fighting men: this request is granted.
Tall then takes personal command of the company, and sends a few men out to determine the exact position and strength of the Japanese. These men are able to learn that the Japanese have five machine guns, and direct shells onto the position. Another small group, this time including Witt, then sets out to flank the bunker and overrun it. They are able to do this, and in the ensuing battle manage to take the entire Japanese stronghold. After the battle, the company is given a week’s leave as reward. However, Tall relieves Staros of his command, and hints that Staros should return to the U.S. and work for JAG, since he was a lawyer before the war. Staros accepts this calmly, but his men are deeply saddened and angry at his departure. Witt wanders into a local illage, but finds that they do not share the same attitude of those he previously lived with: these locals are distrustful and wary of him. After completing their leave, the company is sent to patrol a river. Their new leader, First Lieutenant Band, has little to no actual combat experience or practical knowledge. When they start to come across Japanese artillery fire, Band sends several of the men to scout ahead; Witt volunteers after Band selects two of the youngest company members. To their horror, the scouts quicky come across a large Japanese column that is rapidly approaching the American position. The scouts are spotted by the Japanese, and one of them is shot. Witt sends the other back to warn Band and the company, helps the injured man get into the river in an attempt to float to safety, then draws the pursuing Japanese into a wild goose chase. However, he is soon surrounded by the Japanese; when he fails to surrender Witt is shot and killed. The remaining scout gets back in time to warn the company, who make it out of harm’s way. Witt’s body is retrieved and buried by Welsh. A new commander is appointed to the company, who then leave the island.
MY TAKE: The different thing about this war movie is that there’s not a whole lot of war sequences. Instead, a lot of time is focused on the personal feelings and lives of the various men in the company (most of whom are played by famous actors). While this is probably pretty realistic — soldiers probably did spend a lot of time thinking about home — it slows down the movie, and frankly makes it kinda boring at times. There is a ton of characters, which makes it a little hard to keep track of them, particularly the ones not played by famous guys (Tim Blake Nelson shows up in there too). There’s a bit of a redemption theme, as Witt goes from being a perpetual deserter to a volunteer soldier and hero. The personal aspect of the movie does clarify how much of an emotional toll battle could take on people, as more than one of the men seems to just snap. Others dream about their wives, only to get a Dear John letter after the battle. I can’t think of any nice names for that woman — who decides to divorce her husband while he’s fighting in the Pacific and tells him in a letter? If you have to leave him, wait until the ened of the war to tell him. I thought there was a really good chance that dude was gonna kill himself, all because of his idiot wife. It’s not a bad movie, and is sort of unique for portraying the Pacific theater of the war, but in my book it doesn’t have anything on Private Ryan.
RATING: Just okay.