Weekly Alternatives: ‘Thumbsucker’ and ‘The Thin Red Line’

Brad and Laremy got me excited for Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) in Beginners (which opens next week), so much in fact I began seeking out the work of writer-director Mike Mills. I checked On Demand and sure enough his debut feature Thumbsucker can be found in the “Free Movies” section. But it’s only available until Tuesday, so act fast!

Thumbsucker tells of a high schooler named Justin (Lou Pucci) who still sucks his thumb. Sure, everyone has their vices — be it drugs, sex, thumbsucking or otherwise — and Justin pretty much runs the gamut here after trying virtually anything to break his embarrassing habit. Yes, it’s a “coming of age” tale. But it’s so much more than that.

The film is a journey through the lives of a dysfunctional family on the brink of explosion. It explores the strain that one minor frustration (in this case, a teenage thumbsucker) can put on the functionality of their seemingly normal family. As is the case with many real-life “normal families,” things are not at all what they seem. The changes undergone by the thumbsucker’s parents (Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’Onofrio) eventually prove more monumental than those of the title character. The film also stars Keanu Reeves as a hippie dentist and Vince Vaughn, who is quite good, as Justin’s teacher and coach of his debate team.

The Thin Red Line
When asked to choose my favorite Terrence Malick film, my answer teeters between Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line — usually tilting in favor of the movie I happened to watch most recently. I chose The Thin Red Line for this column simply because it’s the most readily accessible, being available to stream on Netflix Instant.

The film is as thought-provoking as they come. I could write for days about the philosophical questions and moral dilemmas explored by Malick, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m just letting you know the easiest way to familiarize yourself with Malick’s magic before The Tree of Life expands to your city. Check here for those dates, by the way. And if you live in New York or Los Angeles, enjoy your continued movie-going privileges.

Malick’s detractors say the film is “too long,” “too slow” or simply “boring.” To them, I will say that at the heart of the of the film is a 90-minute string of the most intense battle sequences I’ve ever seen. In short, you don’t just watch The Thin Red Line. You experience it. You almost feel like you’re part of the battle, climbing the hill and crawling through the tall grass with John Cusack, Woody Harrelson and the rest of the ridiculous cast. Seriously, no matter who your favorite actors are, chances are one of them will show up for at least a few minutes in this movie.

If I had a time machine I would go back to 1999 and watch The Thin Red Line on the biggest movie theater screen I could find. Until then, I suppose the gorgeous must-own Criterion Blu-ray release of the film will have to do.