Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Phantom (2013) **½

R, 98 min.
Director/Writer: Todd Robinson
Starring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fitchner, Lance Henriksen, Jonathan Scheach, Jason Beghe, Dagmara Dominczyk, Derek Magyar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Gray-Stanford, Julian Adams, Kip Pardue, Jordan Bridges

“Phantom” is a satisfying submarine thriller in the vein of “The Hunt for Red October” that should please audiences of such fare, until the final five minutes, when it is likely to lose most of its audience with some trickery that just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the piece. It’s not a totally devastating misstep, but a misstep that is sure to distract from the rest of the movie experience.

The movie claims to tell the true story of a Russian nuclear submarine crew that supposedly disappeared in 1968, at the height of the Cold War when even the slightest flinch in the Russian/American nuclear strategy could’ve led to instant Armageddon. I think the filmmakers speculate quite heavily on the reasons for this disappearance, but it makes for a compelling thriller.

Ed Harris is a veteran sub captain who is asked to take a strange assignment for his final voyage. A faction of the KGB known for their extreme views is assigned with him on his original diesel vessel on its decommissioning voyage with a top-secret mission to which even he isn’t privy. David Duchovny plays the KGB agent in charge of the mission. Duchovny is a good choice to play this ultra cool cat, who cannot possibly be up to any good. But the movie belongs to Harris, who continues to pull down choice roles even into his twilight years.

There’s nothing really new to be added to the submarine thriller plot here, but it’s all well done until the unfortunate choice of the final scene. I can understand the choice, but is it necessary? It is too much of a stretch to ask of an audience for a story that is supposed to be a historical revelation. Perhaps, the inclusion of Duchovny in the cast got to writer/director Todd Robinson’s head and he felt he had to throw in some strange matters. I doubt that is the reason why it ends as it does, but at least that would provide an explanation for such a poor artistic choice. 

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