Saturday, July 13, 2013

Phantom (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes recommends this first rate Submarine thriller!

The film Phantom (2013) tells the little known story about the Russian submarine, the k-129 that sank under mysterious circumstances in 1968. The film came and went pretty fast at the box office and was considered a flop since it cost about 18 million to make and made only a little above one million in box office receipts. 

I say little known because I had a helluva time finding any information about this story. Since most of it is still under wraps by both Russia and the United States governments I was lucky to read anything at all. What I did find was that this is an incident that could have very well started World War III between China and the United States without involving the culprit of Russia. 

Long story short - a antiquated Russian sub sets out for, what is supposed to be its final voyage before being mothballed to the Chinese. The captain is Demi (Ed Harris), a hard drinking but very efficient submariner who is ready to retire and he and his crew are just coming off of a 3 month tour, only to be sent back out. Demi does it reluctantly but has some slight suspicions that something is not right. This is still Communist Russia, so he keeps his concerns to himself and agrees. 

The mission is to test some "new technologies and maneuvers", but not much else is given. While readying his boat, Demi is introduced to a group of KGB officers led by Bruni (David Duchovny). "We will try not get in your way," Bruni smiles. "Good luck with that," responds an unimpressed first mate, Alex (William Fichtner). 

As the mission continues, it is clear that the KGB have other plans for this submarine and it is a wide spread conspiracy from the rogue elements of the Communist party. What was the objective? 

As the DVD extras explain, the Russians were going to simulate a Chinese submarine's movements to instigate an exchange of Nuclear weapons between China and the United States and leave Russia the last man standing for global domination. Not everyone on the k-129 was willing to go along with that, thus a "Crimson Tide" battle ensues on the ill-fated sub. 

(Phantom refers to the technology that was being tested by the k-129 that simulates the propeller and wake movements of American subs so the American subs would never hear an opposing subs movements). 

Phantom was written and directed by Todd Robinson in his first attempt as writer and director. So far he has done mostly documentaries with the exception of Peter Weir's classic White Squall and the less than impressive Lonely Hearts with John Travolta and James Gandolfini. 

Here, Robinson does a fine job, though of creating characters that are intelligent and complex. Demi's father was a legendary submariner and Demi has tried long and hard to create his own legacy as a fine captain and submariner which he has done, until Bruni starts to reveal a less than stellar career by Demi. This is something Demi has suffered long and hard with the demons in his closet and has turned to drink and pills, but has always been able to maintain control of his boat and his men. Harris plays Demi with a certain sadness but also with a tough streak that is interesting and with the right amount of power as only Harris can do. He is a fine actor. 

It was fun to see Duchovny play Bruni, a soul less ghoul with a sneer that will make you hiss whenever he is on screen. William Fichtner is great as Alex, Demi's First Mate. He is a loyal, smart and very well qualified man that will get his own sub when they return to port. He is the kind of friend you want backing you up in a tough situation. Jonathan Schaech is good, too as a sniveling communist part official, pretty standard on any Russian subs during the Communist rule. Rounding out the great cast is Jason Beghe as the ship's doctor who is good friends with Demi and knows all about Demi's ghosts but says nothing and supports him, nevertheless. 

Robinson's script presents a compelling story and his direction is solid and is paced well. There are a few action scenes, but the real selling point, for me was the dialogue between the characters. It is well written and extremely well acted, and although the cast speaks perfect English it is clear that they are Russians so speaking English did not bother me. Ed Harris spoke perfect English in Enemy At The Gates, as a deadly Nazi Sniper. In fact, the whole cast of that film spoke English and it did not bother me. 

Phantom is a first rate thriller, well crafted, written, directed, scored and acted about a battle for power and survival in the last place on earth there should; a sub with a nuclear warhead. Phantom may have bee  a modestly budgeted film that came and went but deserves a second look


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