Thursday, 4 December 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1998: Elias Koteas in The Thin Red Line

Elias Koteas did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain James 'Bugger' Staros in The Thin Red Line.

The Thin Red Line focuses on the battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.  Although I did not find Terrence Malick's storytelling method to
be all that effective in The Tree of Life or The New World, and only marginally so in Days of Heaven here I found it engrossing, although it does not hurt that it has an absolutely beautiful score and stunning cinematography.

Another facet that contributes to the The Thin Red Line's success is Malick's does allow time for the actors to find their characters. It is an amazing ensemble with almost every actor making the most of their brief moment, aside from George Clooney who was a bit distracting. Although there are many great performances from better known actors the strongest of them all belongs to a lesser known actor. Elias Koteas is an actor who is always good even though he often is the victim of truly thankless roles. In fact you can see Koteas in such a role also from 98 in the form of Apt Pupil. An interesting thing to note is perhaps Malick's methods is what allowed Koteas his time in the for once, even if it perhaps caused the apparent original lead, Adrien Brody, to be reduced to basically a glorified extra. Koteas though has one of the most substantial roles in the film as he portrays Captain Staros who is leading his men into the front lines against the Japanese who have fortified themselves in the hills.

Koteas technically speaking has a simple enough role in terms of Captain Staros as we mostly know that he is that he's leading men who has probably been with some time, and we briefly hear that he was a lawyer before the War. There really is not much else, but there really does not need to be anything else for Koteas. In the more let's say technical side of his performance Kotes is quite effective in creating Staros's role as the Captain. Something particularly interesting about Koteas's performance is he does not portray Staros is necessarily a great leader, at least in terms of having an absolute command of his unit. Koteas portrays that there is a definite struggle for Staros merely to fulfill his role as a commander of troops, particularly in one scene where he has to desperately remind his men that he's in charge of them. Koteas does not portray him as inadequate due to not being lazy, or even truly weak willed, the truth is Staros just is not the type of soldier the army wants.

Koteas is fantastic in his final scene before he is about to be sent home by his commanding officer. Staros has one last talk with his men, who don't want him to go, but Staros refuses to even launch a formal complaint in regards to his 'honorable' dismissal. Not only that Staros even tells his men that he wants to go. Koteas does not show Staros as being all that defiant in regards to being sent away from his men. Koteas instead portrays a very honest resignation in Staros as more than anything he understands that there's nothing that he really can do. Koteas never for a moment though makes it appear as though Staros is merely being selfish in accepting his fate in the army. Koteas does certainly express a sadness in Staros, but he takes that resignation even further than not confronting the military brass. Koteas portrays that Staros recognizes his own weaknesses as commander, and he does understand that more than anything the life of war is not fitting to his personality.

Staros though is not incompetent though for his men, who he wants to bring through the mission without seeing all of them die. Koteas brings such a quiet emotional intensity in his performance as there is never a question how much Staros understands the severity of his situation. There is so much heart that Koteas brings to his role and most importantly it never feels forced at all. Koteas is so genuine with his performance and his work never feels too maudlin or over the top. Koteas's best scene comes in when Staros is forced to face how he feels when he is ordered by his superior to send his men to attack even though the current situation means they will be slaughtered. Koteas succeeds in bringing the full power of this moment as he does show the strength in Staros. Although Koteas shows that Staros might not have been born to lead, he does powerfully show the strength of Staros as he stands by his convictions no matter the repercussion.

From 1998 there was a particularly large abundance of performances as soldiers during World War II thanks to large ensembles found in both this film and Saving Private Ryan. The greatest performance found between the two though belongs to Elias Koteas. Koteas technically does not even have that much dialogue and unlike a few of the other soldiers in this film he does not have that much narration either. Something is so striking about every close of Koteas throughout the film as he says so much and brings so much emotion to a single reaction, which allows him to thrive particularly well in Malick's style. Koteas's makes Staros's face the face of a simple earthly humanity while the inhumanity of the battle rages on around him, which also allows Koteas to carefully differentiate himself from Jim Caviezel's soulful, but otherworldly performance. There is such a poignancy in every second of Koteas's performance as he gives an unforgettable portrait of a leader's unwavering empathy for the plight of his men.


luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & thoughts on the rest of the cast.

luke higham said...

Louis: I'm glad you liked the film, as well as the score, Journey to the Line is one of my all time favourite film compositions.

Keith Allison said...

I've got to admit, I see a lot of people bring up Koteas, but my favorite supporting role has always been Nick Nolte's.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your top 5 for Best Actress and Supporting Actress for 1998?

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings for the previous question, I'll ask for thoughts later on.

Mark said...

Louis: which film do you prefer: The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan?

luke higham said...

Mark: Thin Red Line should be his favourite, since I can remember SPR being 15th out of 22, on his Best to Worst Spielberg film list. The list didn't have Close Encounters or ET by the way.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

It's been over two years since I last watched this. I remember being rather impressed with Koteas, but my mentor is MUCH bigger on Nolte.

Edward L. said...

Koteas gives my favourite performance in the film. Nolte is also terrific. The scenes between them are excellent.

Psifonian said...

"It means you've been like my sons. You are my sons."

Koteas is in my Top 10 of all time.

Matt Mustin said...

I haven't seen this, but Elias Koteas is another one of those actors who's always good, but never gets any roles that reflect it. I thought he was easily the highlight of Ararat. Also, he's a great one scene wonder in Shutter Island.

Kevin said...

A simply stunning performance, the scene where he prays for the safety of his men gets me everytime. I also think that Nolte, Penn and Caviezel were superb.

Louis Morgan said...


Clooney - 2(I have to say, despite the film being star studded cast anyways, Clooney was distracting. He only has one scene, but it is all too standard work for Clooney. Also his appearance could not come at a worst time since the film is closing out and suddenly oh there's George Clooney.)

Travolta - 2.5(Nothing wrong with him he just does not get to do much)

Brody - 2.5(As I said in the review basically a glorified extra as he barely makes a sound. Again nothing wrong with his performance but he just can't make much of an impact)

Leto - 3(Very short screentime, but I think he did a lot in just his reactions to make his sudden demise properly disconcerting)

Reilly - 3(Limited but again good in just showing natural responses to his situation)

Mihok - 3.5(An interesting performance as it gives depth to random hot head soldiers that technically are standard for a warm film. Mihok is really good in his few moments in portraying the real man in the soldier, particularly his sadness after his "triumph" of killing a Japanese soldier)

Chaplin - 3.5(He's has a particularly lot of screen time actually even though he does not have much to say. Although much of what his character is going through his through flashback Chaplin is rather effective in portraying the man who seems to be constantly looking into himself for his comfort during the battle. He's also quite moving in his reaction when his character receives his dear John letter)

Cusack - 3.5(A good performance as Cusack kinda seems to portray the John Wayne type guy of the movie as he leads the first successful attack. Cusack does well in portraying that reserved determination, but also is quite in his face off scene with Nolte as he subtly expresses the man's discontent with his orders)

Harrelson - 4(Bordering on 4.5. A great one scene wonder. His scene is such a heartbreaking portrayal of the last moments of a man. Harrelson's brings the confusion, the fear of death, but also is particularly effective in showing his man as almost in disbelief that he's going to die for what seems like a joke by fate)

Caviezel - 4.5(Bordering on 5. Caviezel does a better job of a man of a greater world than when he played Jesus. Caviezel is exceptional though because he absolutely seems completely enlightened. Caviezel's creates Witt as someone who does not react as anyone else because he has become something else. It's beautiful work)

Penn - 4.5(Also bordering on 5. His career best I would say as there is no Penn ham to be found here. Penn acts as the perfect counterpoint to Caviezel performance by exemplifying a harsh cynicism. It is amazing how the twin reactions of Caviezel and Penn throughout the film portray their opposite philosophies so wonderfully. I loved Penn's final moments especially. He does not say anything but he's so moving in suggesting that Welsh's has been changed by a certain loss, and that perhaps he's reexamining his own view of the world)

Nolte - 4.5(One more bordering on a 5, and like Penn career best. Nolte is outstanding in playing a role that you've certainly seen before as the military man who wants to push ahead no matter how many lives will be lost. Although Nolte is terrific in portraying this fearless foolishness what makes it so remarkable is the emotional desperation for glory that he shows is behind it)



1. Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth - 4.5
2. Kim Dickens - Zero Effect - 4 (Re-watch could either help or hurt her)
3. Gwyneth Paltrow - Shakespeare in Love - 3
4. Jennifer Lopez - Out of Sight - 3
5. Cameron Diaz - There's Something About Mary - 3

Supporting Actress:

1. Laura Linney - The Truman Show - 4.5
2. Sissy Spacek - Affliction - 4
3. Jennifer Connelly - Dark City - 4
4. Bridget Fonda - A Simple Plan - 4
5. Kathy Bates - Primary Colors


The Thin Red Line very easily.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You haven't seen Pleasantville?

Louis Morgan said...

Oh I've seen Pleasantville......

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You didn't like Allen then?

Louis Morgan said...


Blanchett - 4.5(My lead winners share something in common both of their films are pretty terrible. I thought everything about the film was absurd but without any humor to it. It attempted to be detailed about the plots around the crown yet everything seems so paper thin. Also why Joseph Fiennes again he's like his brother if you suck out Ralph's talent and charisma. The role of Elizabeth I thought was pretty underwritten as the film might as well have been called Walsingham since he did a little too much of everything. Blanchett was great despite the thinness of her role as Elizabeth was an oddly passive character. Blanchett though is quite effective in portraying the maturation of her character as she goes from the scared young woman to the Queen who is slowly attempting to seem like a ruler, to finally being the Virgin Queen. Although I think the writing should have brought more depth to this transformation Blanchett nevertheless was believable every step of the way)


I thought she was alright, I'd actually give her probably a 3.5, but I did not love her.

luke higham said...

Louis: I'm happy that you liked her, I liked the film more than you did, since I love History so much, I definitely understand your criticisms, since it deviates a lot from the actual facts, and I actually found Fiennes to be just fine, although nothing admirable.

Your Ratings and Thoughts on Fiennes, Rush, Attenborough, Burke, Eccleston and Craig.

Louis Morgan said...

I love history as well, although that might have contributed to some of my problems with the film.

Fiennes - 2.5(He is actually less detrimental to this film than I do feel he was for Shakespeare in love which I actually prefer as film. I still don't find him particularly charming, certainly not as much as Dudley should be in terms of his role in the film. He also played the role so thinly that there was barely any emotion involving his betrayal. He's only got that .5 because I do think he's good in his last scene)

Rush - 4(Better than his Oscar nomination, but I have feeling the Oscar voters preferred the idea of a lovable producer rather than a Machiavellian manipulator. Rush is quite good at a cold viciousness. He does that intensity in his eyes incredible well, and makes Walsingham quite imposing)

Attenborough - 4(He's always good, and this is no exception. Not a great role, but like usual Attenborough presence adds so much more than any other actor would have in the role. Also he made the most of his brief dismissal scene, and managed to be quite moving)

Burke - 4(A pretty effective purposefully one note portrayal of an intense madness. There's nothing pretty about her portrayal, and Burke thrives in showing just how depraved the mind of the film's version of Mary is)

Eccleston - 2.5(He's just kinda forgettable here. There's not much menace in his performance, and his character almost seemed an afterthought because of that)

Craig - 3(Does more than Eccleston in making a menacing villain with far less screen time. I wish Craig's "evil priest" had lasted a little longer since he seemed like the only guy who could even try to face Walsingham)

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what did you think of Pleasantville as a whole and your ratings and thoughts on the cast?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Did anyone else watch Peter Pan Live? Because that was one of the most bizarre spectacles I've watched on live television, and I saw Jon Hamm in blackface once.

Anonymous said...

Louis, I suggest you to see Sliding Doors, I thought it was a very interesting movie with a strong performance by Gwyneth Paltrow. Anyway, what are your thoughts and ratings on Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog?

Anonymous said...

@kook160: I'm sorry I didn't.
What are everybody's ratings and thoughts on Nicole Kidman in To Die For? I think she's brilliant.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Orci's just been fired from Star Trek 3 and Edgar Wright is taking over.


luke higham said...

KoooK160: Thank Christ, Trek III was doomed to fucking fail with Bay's Bitch boy taking the reins, I do hope Wright gets the job, as I was quite disappointed in his departure from Ant Man.

Matt Mustin said...

Edgar Wright is rumoured in the sense that somebody said "I'd like to see Edgar Wright do this."

mcofra7 said...

Louis: Have you given your thoughts/ratings on the supporting cast of Sin City?

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I'm not a fan of Pleasantville as I feel the whole film has a strong air of smugness. Past that though I just did not find the fist half particularly funny especially since the 50's sitcoms weren't quite as hollow as they make them out to be. The second half is about as heavy handed as a film can be in terms of its message, I mean the whole "colored" people discrimination was about as subtle as that episode of Star Trek with Frank Gorshin with the half-white, half-black people. It was visually interesting though, I'll give it that.


Maguire - 2.5(He's been blander in his time, but he's not exactly not bland here either. I did not mind his performance for the most part, but some of his bigger scenes such as the rain scene were kinda overplayed)

Witherspoon - 2.5(It's kinda weird the way she basically becomes supporting after she stops telling everyone about sex for the first time. Even when she had the spotlight though I thought she was just merely there, and did not necessarily add any special to role)

Macy - 3(There's someone from this year who does a more memorable job of a twist on the wholesome father image. Macy's version of it is reasonably effective)

Allen - 3.5(There's quite a bit of intense love for this performance, but I can't quite share in it. Technically I don't have any complaints she does a good job of going from the hollow housewives to the sensitive person who wishes to learn more things. I never found anything that affecting about her performance though)

Daniels - 3.5(This is not far off from being a bit of reprisal of his performance, as Tom Baxter, in The Purple Rose of Cairo. In that both show a man fixed in a position then suddenly taking on all new things. Again he does it well, but I found it more interesting in Cairo)

Walsh - 3(Walsh is usually good and this is no different. He brings the right imposing quality within the confines of the properly cordial mayor)


Those adds were more than enough for me in regards to Peter Pan.

Well that's good news for Star Trek III, although I have my doubt about Wright being chosen merely because he seems to want to go for his own vision, which became a problem for Ant-Man. I for one want to see Wright's vision, since I've at least liked to loved all of his films, and it would actually be fitting to the original series since episodes certainly could be of pretty different tones at times

Louis Morgan said...


I'll try to give that one a watch.

Connelly - 3.5(She was certainly unlikable in the role but that was part of the point. She realized that selfishness is an honest of way, but still had the right undercurrent of a certain desperation to create at least some sympathy for her. I would say she is slightly held back in her scenes Ron Eldard because he is awful in the film)


Boothe - 3(He brings so much menace in his one scene and is one of the few things that the second one actually realized the potential of from the first one)

Owen - 3(I have to say it Dwight really isn't a very good character. He's excessively poorly defined in terms of his motives as film noir heroes usually have something that pushes them. Dwight does not really have that, and there isn't much mystery to him. I mean Owen does well at being cool and badass, but he can't make up for the nature of his character)

Wood - 3(I think the visuals also help him, but he is appropriately creepy here. That final stare towards Rourke is great)

Del Toro - 3(He starts out a bit iffy as he overacts a little in his pre-mortem scenes. His brings the appropriately darkly comic glee though in his post-mortem moments)

Murphy - 3(I rather liked her in her few scenes as I felt she brought the appropriate emotional intensity in her brief screen time)

Willis - 2.5(Willis is good for the most part in being the dark detective hero on his last legs. The reason my score is low is because all the life seems to be sucked out of him in his one scene with Michael Madsen)

Madsen - 1(Not long after his career best in Kill Bill Vol. 2 he gave this performance. It does not feel like he is even trying here as every line reading feels like he could not care less about what he is doing)

Alba - 2(She's not a very good actress, luckily she isn't stressed too much here, unlike her horrid work in the sequel. She's never makes sense of her casting to be sure, but she's not aggressively bad)

Hauer - 3(Very brief work, but Hauer is quite effective in instantly suggesting the depraved nature while keeping the front as though he is a good man)

Duncan - 2.5(His voice is great, but he seemed somewhat detached from a few of the lines making the style seem more awkward than cool)

Dawson - 2.5(She's fine for the most part, but like Duncan a couple of her deliveries just did not sit well with me)

Stahl - 3(He might be a tad too obvious in the first half of his performance, but I do quite like his work as the yellow version)

Gugino - 2.5(She does a decent job for most of her scenes except her freak out. It's not necessarily poorly acted, and it is probably the director's fault, but the way she's so calm in the very next scene seems quite off)