Director: Todd Robinson
Runtime: 97 minutes
Todd Robinson’s Phantom is, at times, a skillfully executed film saved from direct-to-video boredom, mostly due to top-notch performances. Starring Ed Harris as Demi, a man whose father is a legendary, highly decorated naval officer, he is a secret embarrassment deeply haunted by his past mistakes. He finds himself commanding a sub on its way to the scrap yard (or China). As he explains it, an old seaman without a ship is just another drunk.
William Fichtner is Alex Kozloy, his number two in command. Mysteriously aboard is David Duchovny’s Bruni, a phantom himself (records indicate he has died years earlier) and his crew testing a classified technology that simulates the profile of other ships, allowing a ship to be whatever it wants to be to fake out the enemies’ sonar. The motives of Bruni and his classified crew come to light in a rather expected twist (given this exposition, how can there not be a twist?)
The direction is effective, but often the film suffers the most fetal of screenwriting sins. It tells us in long expositional passages what’s going on versus showing us. Perhaps it’s the nature of the beast, as a contained thriller has some restrictions and a submarine is about as contained as you’ll get (save for a film about being buried alive — the one-man show Buried was so effective in its execution). The flashbacks do provide a set up, but again, they feel by the book.
Yet Phantom is not without its moments. It’s entertaining and engaging, mostly due to the performances of Harris and Fichtner, who elevate this material. The film steps wrong very early on, twice, by providing too much information and delivering a somewhat “paint by numbers” plot that is loosely based on the K-129 crisis of 1968. Also a misstep is Duchovny’s Bruni, miscast as the movie’s villain, he doesn’t seem to have as much mystery as he should.
The film is pretty effective as a procedural, harkening back to Crimson Tide. However this will sadly, and in some ways, wrongfully fade out of the multiplex very quickly. The film is a serious historical action movie and the kind of film that should be made more often. I applaud this attempt at reviving a genre we need more of.
The Hunt for Red October this is not (nor does it have the silly-after-a-while Russian accents – although the over-the-top American-ness of the Russians is a little odd). It’s entertaining, if not predictable, and lacking some of the texture required to have made this an exceptionally good thriller. It’s a mediocre movie, certainly not boring, and the potential for something more interesting is present thanks to its talent, and perhaps the most disappointing thing about this project.
Phantom is now in wide release.
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