MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Ed Harris as DEMI
David Duchovney as BRUNI
William Fichtner as ALEX
Lance Henriksen as MARKOV
Johnathon Schaech as PAVLOV
Jason Beghe as SEMAK
Studio: RCR Distribution
Directed by: Todd Robinson
BY KEVIN CARR
Years of watching movies for a living can lead a critic to be overly cynical. While I try to avoid that as much as possible, as it can suck the joy out of something you once loved, there are times when I can’t help but be so. The big hot button for me is the “Inspired by a true story” note that is tacked onto dozens of movies a year.
However, for a film like “Phantom,” it is entirely accurate and necessary to remind the audience that there’s a kernel of truth in it. Sure, there’s plenty of creative license taken with the film, but it deals with a lesser-known element of Cold War history that should make every American (as well as any citizen of any nation) shudder a bit.
The film tells the story of a Russian nuclear submarine that disappeared in 1968. Ed Harris plays the veteran captain, who is inexplicably sent back out to sea on a soon-to-be-retired vessel. Before they leave port, they take on a couple new passengers with little explanation. David Duchovney plays the leader of this new band of sailors, and once the mission is underway, their secret plan is revealed. Over the next few days, the submarine goes rogue, hunted by Russians and foreigners alike. The secret mission, that the captain fights against, just might start World War III.
The true element to this story is the fact that a Russian sub did, in fact, go rogue in 1968, and it was later found under very suspicious circumstances. There is little information about this incident, and writer/director Todd Robinson takes a lot of liberties with speculation as to what happened in that ship. However, as he explains in the special features on the disc, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the sailors on this ship were heroes that averted the apocalypse.
There aren’t a ton of submarine movies out there, but it does exist as it’s own little sub-genre (no pun intended). As far as submarine movies go, “Phantom” is well done, especially considering its limited budget. What helps things along is the excellent cast, with Harris throwing down a fine performance and William Fichtner backing him up well. Duchovney plays his role with his standard “X-Files” deadpan delivery, but for the most part it works in the film.
There’s a modest disconnect in this movie between the underwater shots generated by computer and the in-sub shots, which are gritty and claustrophobic. Fortunately, Robinson sticks with the interior shots whenever possible, gaining a healthy dose of authentic production value by shooting the movie in an actual sub (something that would not have been possible with film cameras as little as ten years ago).
When limited by budget, a good independent film turns in on itself and spotlights the actors, and that’s where the meat is in this movie.
Still, there are some slow moments of set-up, and the title MacGuffin does feel a bit forced at times. However, for a less spectacular submarine movie, “Phantom” is definitely worth a look.
The bonus features on the “Phantom” Blu-ray are impressive more for quality rather than quantity. There’s a nice assortment, to be sure, but nothing that pops, formula-wise. There’s an audio commentary, a music video and three featurettes: “Facing the Apocalypse,” “The Real Phantom” and ‘Jeff Rona: Scoring Phantom.”
These featurettes are where the meat is. The first two featurettes lay out the real history behind the movie, which is somewhat shocking to discover. The third featurette shows how composer Jeff Rona achieved a unique score with found sounds collected off the actual submarine.