on June 27, 2013
If you're able to look past the fact that all of the Russians are played by Americans (running from Americans) who, with the exception of William Fichtner, never remotely attempt an accent, you'll find you're in for a real treat with Phantom. A cast of recognizable--iconic even--faces come together for this quiet, smart tale of intrigue. Ed Harris is as tremendous as ever but it's David Duchovny who turns in the most unexpected performance. A very enjoyable film packed with extras that are worth watching, especially in regards to the historical truths the movie is based upon. The metaphysical ending might confuse some but the visuals throughout the film lend to the 'haunted' aspect of the film. I'd say this is more 'U-571' than 'Hunt for Red October' but if you're a submarine fan, this is an admirable entry to the genre. The fact that it was filmed entirely on board an actual Soviet sub made it even more interesting. Enjoy!
It used to be that Hollywood knew a thing or two about producing some outstanding, patriotic military thrillers. I'm not talking about the drum-beating variety; rather, I'm talking about stories that focused on characters with a commitment to whatever country they served, and these characters would then be allowed to carry out their mission at whatever the cost. That's the stuff audiences typically embrace - not these veiled anti-war, anti-American, anti-decency dramatic potboilers. If you'd told me twenty years ago that I'd have to watch a film about a Soviet submarine captain who does what's necessary to save all of humanity in order to have that thirst for solid military drama sated, then I would've told you to drop down and give me twenty.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
In the late 60's, a battle-tested Soviet submarine captain nearing the end of his career, Demi (played by the reliable Ed Harris) returns to base only to find out he's been assigned to command a relic: an old diesel sub is on the verge of being retired and sold to the Chinese for their new navy. His senior officer thinks it apropos that Demi - who first captained the sub - see it through on its last mission, and, a consummate professional, he agrees. However, once they're out to see, Demi finds his authority usurped a KGB officer, Bruni (David Duchovny), who's intent on using the ship to test a new naval weapon known only as `Phantom.' Once it becomes clear that Bruni is privately committed to launching a nuclear warhead at the US's Pacific Fleet, Demi fights his own personal demons on his bid to retake the sub with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
PHANTOM is a smartly written and expertly directed project (credit Todd Robinson for both) that's entirely based on true events. In fact, the Soviet sub that went down in the late 60's has been raised and recovered, but, until this day, both the Russian government and the U.S. protect its records at the highest level of classification. As I said in my opening, I'm a sucker for a good, patriotic actioner - regardless of who is calling the shots - and this one was pretty spectacular.
At the center of it all is some exceptional photography with sets depicting diesel sub interiors of the era. Everything is tightly shot by design, and the lighting and period detail only adds to the visual drama. Furthermore, the production is held up on Harris's capable shoulders; he plays the captain with tremendous reserve (until fisticuffs become necessary), and that's because the script brilliant shackles the character with some personal baggage that takes the shape of some very dark secrets. He's also suffering from a physical condition - one that he's kept from those closest to him - that plays heavily into the second half.
To add to the expertise, Robinson brought in a stable of familiar and highly-skilled actors to add even more gravitas to the project. The exceptional William Fichtner plays Alex, the sub's executive officer. Lance Henriksen appears briefly as Admiral Markov - the officer who tasks Demi with this mission (and them suffers his own dark comeuppance). Johnathon Schaech - while shackled under a mustache honestly too thick for his face - also serves under Harris's captain, and Jason Beghe as Semak earns stripes as the ship's doctor. A personal long-time favorite of mine since his stint as Indiana Jones on television, Sean Patrick Flanery shows up as weapon's expert Tyrtov.
If PHANTOM has any failings, I'd have to point my finger at its uncharacteristically schmaltzy ending, which sacrifices the gritty reality of the first 90 minutes for a saccharin and sappy closing scene that serves no real purpose other than to bring in a few, fresh faces to cleanse the palate of all the film's sweaty manliness. It was entirely unnecessary - I'm not sure what Robinson was thinking when he wrote it - and it could've been played several different ways that wouldn't have pitched reality out the window in favor of a few minutes of benign fantasy.
PHANTOM is produced by RCR Media Group, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and Solar Filmworks. DVD distribution is being handled through 20th Century Fox. As for the technical specifications, I'm willing to guess no expense was spared in bringing this tale of seasoned bravery to life; it's filled with constantly claustrophic cinematography aboard a Soviet diesel submarine, and it looks marvelous. (Having toured two Cold War subs similar to the sets used in this film, I thought it extremely accurate in its depictions.) Lastly, the Blu-ray package offers up the real deal: along with the film there's a digital copy that you can watch anywhere; three production shorts; a music video; and an audio commentary. Bravo to all involved for pitching in with some impressive extras!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Before Hollywood went all political with its military thrillers, it served up classic-style heroes - old soldiers, old captain, old warriors - who knew a thing or two about facing the odds and saving the world. Despite a curiously sentimental, fantastical ending, PHANTOM remains a tautly plotted motion picture are big men facing bigger odds. Based on true events (and probably a fair amount of screenwriter tinkering), the story focuses in on a battle of wills between an aging relic of Soviet supremacy (Ed Harris) and a KGB operative (David Duchovny) who'll stop at nothing to set the world on a path to global apocalypse. It'd be easy to quip some of the minor details, but PHANTOM is man's entertainment, and there ain't no bones about that.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RCR Media Group and 20th Century Fox provided me with a DVD copy of PHANTOM by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
on July 13, 2013
***PLOT SPOILER REVIEW***
As a former submariner who rode these old vessels I found this film fascinating. One story was that the US sunk this ship. This movie presents a different version.
The story is simple. The KGB goes rogue with a submarine with the intent of launching a first strike at the US, making it look like China did it. The film creates characters and internal conflicts to make the story interesting.
Kudos to the film for getting the submarine terminology and capability correct. This aspect was more realistic than most sub films.
There are some problems with the basic scenario. First off in 1968, China had only one Golf style submarine operational. It did NOT have launch capabilities. They wouldn't develop that until 1970. The second problem is that nuclear bombs have signature. We could figure out the difference between a crude Chinese graphite reactor bomb and a slightly more sophisticated Russian bomb. So the premise of the film while interesting, doesn't seem plausible.
Another film goof was when they encountered the USS Skipjack. The Skipjack was stationed out of Norfolk and operated in that area in 1968. The submarine in the Pacific was the USS Swordfish, i.e. a Skipjack class sub, but not the Skipjack itself.
The actors did what they could with a dry script. Landlubbers may find this film a complete bore and rightly so. We already know they fail. Extras include a talk about the real incident on which the film was based.
Parental Guide: F-bomb. No sex or nudity.
on June 30, 2013
I heard David Duchovny on a talk show and he gave the premise of the movie and explained that the events in the movie, "Phantom" were classified factoids.
Very entertaining and Ed Harris is another actor on my "A" list.
David Duchovny did a fabulous portrayal of a man bent on his mission and the action was great and real.
I truly enjoyed the movie and everyone should see it. Refreshing,as we have had to move away from the cold war movie days, and this movie is a great reminder that these possibilities were real and true.
I have a friend that was from the "cold war era" and he was on a sub for his 20 year career and he said that they would actually go into the Russian ports, underneath the Russian ships and because it was a nuclear sub, they were undetected and that there were times when things were lined up and all they had to do was wait for the word and WW!!! would have been a reality.
on August 9, 2013
I enjoyed it, but its not amazing. You can tell it was made on a limited budget. The quality feels a little better than something made for TV, but not on par with a big release. First off, everyone is supposed to be Russian... No one even tries an accent or anything. There are plenty of good Russian actors that could have been cast for this movie, but of course then no one would have seen it. Once you get past the lack of Russian complaint, the movie is not bad. I was entertained through the whole movie. The climax of the movie, and the ending were not the best. The ending just sort of felt random... And the things that happen between Ed Harris and David D.'s characters don't ever really feel right, especially when the falling out occurs. So once you get passed the lack of actual Russians, the odd plot, and strange ending, you are still left with an entertaining forgettable movie.
Definitely a rental.
See Das Boot, U-571, Red October, they are more enjoyable than this one.
on April 20, 2016
As a former submariner, I buy and collect all submarine-oriented movies. This one has quite an interesting narrative, and, of course, look at the two main stars? I mean, who wouldn't buy a movie with Ed Harris in it and Mr. X-Files, himself? Of course, there is only so much you can do with KGB oriented narratives, and searching for a treasure (of gold) is always pretty much the same rigamarole. But in this movie, the suspense is based on human drama, and, of course, it's one of those sensational endings I'd love to tell you how that all worked out, but you'd probably slap me for telling you ahead of time, so I won't. Suffice it to say this DVD is worth the money and the time to watch it. Down-ladder, clear the baffles and dive...DIVE! (a-oooga, a-oooga...that singular horn sound on submarines, when diving or surfacing).