We're unlikely to see a more extraordinary Hollywood movie in 1999 than Malick's masterpiece, a stunning piece of work from one of cinema's true visionaries. Typically for Malick, the story, adapted from James Jones' novel, is simple and straightforward, charting the fortunes of a US army platoon as they attempt, against all odds, to wrest control of Guadalcanal from the Japanese. Nothing very unusual happens: soldiers get killed, go crazy with fear, fall out with superiors, and try to find ways of surviving with body and mind intact. But while Malick is not overly preoccupied with plot, the film's three hours are far from empty: thematically, philosophically and spiritually, no war movie has been so profoundly rich. For it's not just an essay on the hellish madness of war or a tribute to courage under fire, but a mythic, almost pantheist meditation on the role of conflict, violence and death in nature. With its multiple voice-overs representing the thoughts and feelings of men facing death, its imagery of flora and fauna, its philosophical, religious and literary allusions, and its cogent central metaphor of paradise lost, it's a genuinely epic ciné-poem that essentially sidesteps history, politics and conventional ethics to deal with war as an absolute, inevitable and eternal facet of existence.