"I've lived with
these men, sir, for two and a half years and I will not
order them all to their deaths."
-- Capt. James Staros
Watch Elias in action with this clip from YouTube.
found this movie to be a powerful look at the human
emotion of war.
As a member of the Armed Forces, I know all too well the
implications of defying the orders of a superior
I think that's why I could sympathize with Capt. Staros.
Some people would call Staros a coward for failing to
obey orders and charge the hill; others would see his
actions as a true stance of bravery -- sacrificing your
career and reputation to save the lives of your men.
Growing up, Elias said he admired Nick Nolte. In this
movie, he acts opposite his idol and holds his own,
showing what a marvelous and mature actor he has become.
He portrays Capt. Staros as a reluctant commanding
officer, a perceived coward and a misconceived decorated
war hero. Is there any wonder why I admire this man?
Trivia about The Thin Red Line.
Did you know...
of the character names are consistent in all three
versions, the Captain's name is not: it's Stein in the
novel, Stone in the 1964 film, and Staros in the 1998
Malick changed Elias Koteas' character's name so late
in the production that the costume can be seen with
the name Stein on it, not Staros.
argument on the phone, Capt. Staros states, "It is now
13:21 hundred hours," when his wrist watch clearly
shows a time of 14:32 hundred hours. The watch also
shows other times during the conversation.
a dream come true for more reasons than just sharing
screen time with Nick. He proved to be everything
I'd suspected and hoped he would be. He's a totally
committed actor. All those screaming matches we have
were played at top volume and intensity whether the
camera was on him or on me."
Elias, on working with Nick Nolte.
Film Interview with Elias Koteas
interview originally appeared in Inside Film on an
unlisted date. Interview by Steve Goldman. Copyright of
A & R Publishing, Limited.
How did you get
cast in the film?
The usual way. I was sent the script by
my agent about a month or so before filming started. We
set up an appointment. I auditioned. They put me on tape
and sent it off to Terrence Malick in Australia and that
was it. It happened real fast. Just the same way I'm
sure that real soldiers are recruited. You get the news
and boom! You're on a plane and suddenly you're off
overseas with all the fear and anxiety of fulfilling
your mission and the fear and anxiety that you might not
be able to cut the mustard.
Were you up
against any major names?
I don't know. It was tough for him to
cast the whole film, though. I heard that it took a
while. So I felt that weight as well, that sense of
rsponsibility in taking on the part, which was paralled
in the character's sense of responsibility towards his
men. Each time you go into a job, each journey is
different. Sometimes you feel like you're nailing it,
other times you feel like you've never acted before.
This time it was more of the latter. Couple that with
having limited reheasal time and that puts on a lot of
pressure. As an actor you try to use it.
What is the
relationship between this film and Steven Spielberg's
Saving Private Ryan?
America learned a lot about warfare
during Guadalcanal, as depicted in this film. The troops
were green and inexperienced. Hence the major connection
with Private Ryan is that what we learned in
warfare in that vicious South Pacific battle we took to
D-Day--Oddly enough, I was also cast for this film on
the anniversay of D-Day.
What did you
know about Terrence Malick?
Only his reputation. It was only when I
got home that I watched his previous films. I was aware
of Days of Heaven and Badlands, but I
hadn't seen them. But I learned a lot, obviously, by
working with him. Terry has an amazing improvisational
quality. When he discovered my Greek background, for
example, he incorporated it into the character.
How close did
it feel to a real battle?
For those five months, it was my war.
You have to go through that process. For better or for
worse, my life paralleled some of those anxieties. And I
could only use that in terms of myself and my craft. If
I don't get this job right as an actor, will I have a
future? The same for Captain Staros. If he doesn't
fulfill his mission, will he have a future as a soldier?
day-to-day life like on the set?
Obviously, we didn't have trailers, we
had camps. And then we would either hike along the
trails or be driven to the set, or "the front" as I
would call it. It was very similar to Chapter Four of
All Quiet on the Western Front. That's the parallel.
And I don't mean disrepsect towards the men who endured
it. Whatever I understand, it is in my own minuscule
way, compared with what any soldier goes through.
It's quite a
jump from your Ninja Turtle films. I assume Malick
didn't base his casting decision on those performances.
No. He didn't se anything I've done.
Didn't want to. He felt it would distract him from
assessing me. He wanted to see me as me and then try to
capture that. And I respected that. I also didn't want
to see his other movies and be intimidated. So we both
started on a level playing field.
Has being a
part of this film altered you?
I knew going in I would come out
altered. That was part of the attraction. No one ever
changes on a casual whim. You have to go in kicking and
screaming to come out the other end in some positive way
with a different appreciation for life. After a while I
felt such a connection to the insanity of the moment
that I was addicted to it. Anything other than that
wasn't enough. We were scared, and that's why the film
every A-list actor in town clamoring to take a part --
any part -- in Terrence Malick's WWII epic "The Thin Red
Line," the key roles of Private Witt and Captain Staros
were landed by relative unknowns: Jim Caviezel and Elias
Koteas, respectively. The two have garnered some of the
film's strongest reviews, not surprising given that Witt
and Staros represent the moral backbone of C for Charlie
Company, a group of green recruits either sickened by
fear or deadened by their capacity to kill.
Although not as prominent in James
Jones' earthy novel, Witt -- who figured in Jones' "From
Here to Eternity" and was made immortal by Montgomery
Clift in that 1953 film adaptation -- becomes as much a
Malick creation as a character from Jones' pen. Part
rebel, part hero, he's given a kind of tragic serenity
by Caviezel, who plays him as a man seemingly at peace
with his impending death. Koteas,
on the other hand, plays Staros, a man who will avoid
placing anyone in his platoon in harm's way at any cost,
with sweetness and humanity
What the actors share is an almost
awestruck regard for Malick's rigorous yet gentle
approach to direction. "I think that he cast guys for
their particular essence and what they could bring to
the role that's individual," says Koteas, whose Greek
heritage caused Malick to change his character's name
from Stein (in the book) and imbue him with a palpable
Caviezel, imitating the director's
drawl, adds, "(Malick) often says, `Jim, do whatever's
real, whatever's natural.' There is a kind of controlled
chaos, but within that chaos you have many real
Since Witt's character is from Kentucky,
Caviezel -- who grew up in Mount Vernon, Wash., and
"couldn't speak a lick of Southern dialect" -- spent
time in Kentucky and the Black Hills, absorbing speech
patterns. He also spoke to WWII vets. "One such man
talked about the difference between killing a man with
his own hands and using a weapon," recalls the actor.
"How kinesthetically different it is feeling somebody's
life leave their body as a direct result of your own
actions. And each of them says, `Well, something in me
I am not
going to do injustice to Terrence Malick's first film in
nearly twenty years by trying to compare it to "Saving
Private Ryan." It just wouldn't be fair! The movie
(although far from flawless) is able to stand on its own
merits as a memorable war picture.
I tried to steer clear of the "Ryan" comparisons, I did
find myself noting similarities to previous "war" films
such as "Hamburger Hill," "Apocalypse Now," and
"Platoon." Definitely good company! Thanks to some
spectacularly shot action sequences, Malick is able to
achieve his biggest objective: convincing the moviegoer
that war is hell. He accomplishes this by centering more
on the ravaging psychological effects than the
horrifically graphic scenes that we've become accustomed
to in other pictures.
is based on James Jones's novel and is basically
composed of three recurring elements: flashbacks,
narration, and potent action sequences. The movie
follows the rifle company "C" [Charlie] Company, whose
mission is to secure the all-important terrain of
Guadalcanal from the Japanese, a key to victory during
starts as the company lands on the island virtually
unopposed, but that's about the only quiet time these
men will know. The essence of the their adventure is
told through narration which is used as effectively here
as it was by Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse," and by his
son Charlie in "Platoon." Although I would have
preferred Malick use this tool for just one of the leads
instead of several, I still found it powerful rather
director makes it clear from the start that there will
be no stars in this group regardless of the egos and
weekly paychecks involved. This is exactly the reason
they jumped on board accepting scale instead of their
inflated salaries. By agreeing to be part of a team,
they actually resembled a real-life combat unit. Don't
be misled by the big names above the marquee --
recognizable faces such as George Clooney, Woody
Harrelson, John Cusack, and John Travolta come and go as
quickly as artillery fire.
all part of well-oiled machine, but some parts work
better than others no matter how expert the
craftsmanship. Jim Caviezel as the AWOL private and Ben
Chaplin as the soldier who just wants to go home are
both solid, but it is the work of Sean Penn as the noble
sergeant, Elias Koteas as the captain with the heart of
a gold, and Nick Nolte as the overbearing lieutenant
colonel overseeing the operation that make the film tick
seen Penn's character played out a million times before
on film. You know the kind -- the good soldier and quiet
leader. He does his job well only because he realizes he
has to. All he knows is war -- here is no other reality
and he fully accepts it even though he may not like it.
picked up an Oscar nomination for his work in
"Affliction" last year, and he proves that he can still
get the job done. In fact, at times I thought his veins
were going to pop out of his forehead. His character
(Lt. Col. Tall) has waited a lifetime to taste a piece
of the action -- to show that he belongs. He realizes
that it will take the loss of many men to win the war
and he fully accepts that "sacrifices will need to be
made." It's his destiny to win the war and if he doesn't
live up to his expectations- of himself it will be his
colonel knows very well that taking Guadalcanal will
cost nearly every young life under his command, but he
never hesitates and places the order. It is at this
point that the film really shows its heart. His second
in command, Captain Staros (Koteas),
who cares deeply for his men and refuses to see them
become martyrs, dismisses the order. The film gains
strength from Koteas, who started off as a lost soul but
shows (at just the right time) that he is in fact the
right man for the job, not only orchestrating a terrific
cat & mouse game with his superior but saving the lives
of his men. Staros might be a failure to his colonel,
but he's a hero to the men whose lives he saved.
returns from a prolonged hiatus with a powerful and
memorable film, but it would have been even more
unforgettable if the director did a few things
differently. First of all, the time spent in the movie
theater felt as long as Malick's sabbatical. The battle
scenes were exquisite, but after a while you prayed that
they would take that hill already! Three hours could
have easily been trimmed to two. Besides capturing some
wonderful action sequences on film, he also had some
breathtaking shots of nature, but after a while I felt
that I was at the zoo instead of my local cinema.
some may prefer a more fast-break approach than the
film's half-court appeal, it is for this reason the film
works. He uses a calculating style that shows that war
can kill-slowly and convincingly. Even if war has
miraculously left your body without a scratch, it has
eaten away at your psyche as well as spitting out your
film's cinematography, choreographed battle scenes,
acting, and overall message make it worthy of a place
among last year's best. The director beautifully
captures the backdrop of war in all its anguish with
some superb location shoots. The battle scenes'
precision can match those found in any other film.
They're less graphic, but since the focus is
psychological and not physical, the impact is just as
strong. Malick dove head first into interpreting what
these soldiers were feeling and stresses the pain that
they endured in the face of horror and the infinite
courage that kept them alive. His message, although
convoluted at times, was that these soldiers were no
longer fighting for their country, they were fighting to
Red Line" is far from perfect and the journey may seem
endless, but it is still a powerful journey in which the
only way the heroic victors at Guadalcanal can get to
heaven is to survive a brief stint in hell.