The return of director Terrence Malick to feature filmmaking after a twenty year sabbatical, this World War II drama is an elegiac rumination on man's destruction of nature and himself, based on James Jones' semi-autobiographical novel, his follow-up to From Here to Eternity. James Caviezel stars as Private Witt, a deserter living in peace and harmony with the natives of a Pacific island paradise. Captured by the Navy, Witt is debriefed by a senior officer (Sean Penn) and returned to an active duty unit preparing for what will be the Battle of Guadalcanal. As Witt goes ashore in the company of his fellow soldiers, they meet diverse fates. Sergeant Keck (Woody Harrelson) is killed by an exploding grenade. Captain John Gaff (John Cusack) is an intelligent, sober leader facing the destruction of his command because his commanding officer Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) is bucking for a general's star. Sergeant McCron (John Savage) loses his mind. Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) gets a "Dear John" letter from his beloved wife. However, as the U.S. troops advance up grassy slopes toward entrenched Japanese positions, it is Witt's voiced-over ruminations on life, death, and nature that are the real heart and soul of The Thin Red Line (1998). Adrien Brody appears as Private Fife, the major character of Jones' novel and the author's alter-ego, although Fife has been relegated to a minor supporting role by Malick's filmed adaptation.
by Karl Williams synopsis