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The Thin Red Line

"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.

I found this movie to be a powerful look at the human emotion of war. Elias as Capt. Staros. As a member of the Armed Forces, I know all too well the implications of defying the orders of a superior officer. Elias with his idol, Nick Nolte. 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.

The men of Charlie company. 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...


  • While most 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 version.

  • Terrence 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.

  • During his 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.

"It was 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.

The Inside Film Interview with Elias Koteas

Capt. StarosThis 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?

What was 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 is authentic.

The Thin Red Shrine

Variety chooses 'fresh faces' as unlikely Oscar contenders for 1998
Elias, Jim Caviezel chosen for The Thin Red Line

Capt. StarosWith 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 spirituality.

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 moments."

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 died.'"

The Thin Red Line 
Review by Jay Rittenberg

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.

Although 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.

The film 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 the war.

The film 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 than distracting.

The 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.

They're 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 with intensity.

We've 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.

Nolte 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 undoing!

The 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.

Malick 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.

Although 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 soul.

The 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 stay alive.

"The Thin 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.




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