Phantom: A Film Review
There have always been testosterone-drenched films that took place in the depths of the high seas, men-only airtight boxes with tension and emotions running higher than maximum up-bubble. All are hard-wired guy films, claustrophobia inducing, and have a knack for putting your heart or similar organ in your throat. Such films include Das Boot (1981), U 571 (2000), and The Hunt for Red October (1990), which have the merit of taut scripts wrought by superior writers.
Phantom is loosely based on a "true" story of a 1968 sinking of a Soviet nuclear sub, the K-129, in the South Pacific. We root for the Soviet naval command as opposed to rogue KGB agents forced onto the regular crew, contrary to the captain's protocols. It need not be stated that the most sophisticated and dangerous weapon in the world is a nuclear sub, even a somewhat superannuated bucket ready for the whale yards. There's the parallel between the B-67 [K-129] and the next-to-be-decommissioned captain. Like some of our favorite Star Trek episodes, the sub is fitted with a hotdog cloaking device.
While colleagues do not all agree on the value of this welcome entry into the languished genre, we think it's a satisfying entertainment. One with the luxury of the several greats, including Russian Captain (Ed Harris), son of a legendary naval hero, but afflicted with epilepsy at inopportune moments. A man self-medicating with hair of the dog. The too-seldom-seen William Fichtner does a superb second in command.
Decidedly out of his Californication TV mode of lecherous debauchery, David Duchovny never cracks a smile (recalling his Mulder mode, but evil, not as a rogue operative bent on a separate agenda from the principled Captain. Friends of the TV anal-compulsive detective show Monk will delight in seeing Lt. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) as a crewmen who bravely tries to save the day when the ship is taken over by Duchovny et al.
The tension does mount. We throw our sympathies behind the competent Cold War crew, working subtly to foil the KGB insurrectionist moles in their midst, who clearly will stop at nothing to achieve their cynical goal. The tight quarters are characters in the action, part of the rising fear and anxiety. It's a pleasure to see the impressive leadership evident in the experienced captain -- and his well-oiled, responsive crew -- who under normal circumstances would be sovereign under the waves. Here, the crew stands a better than even chance of being shot dead by the uncompromising fanatic agents whose goals are at cross-purposes to the rest of the sub.
In a 4-week period where we screened some 20 films, most infinitely forgettable, Phantom resonates for its novel point of view, its internecine fight within its own ranks, its masculine authority, and the great ensemble acting.
Caveat: Not everyone is as enthusiastic as we are.
Much of this incident is still shrouded in question marks, although reputedly the U.S. has wet its hands in aspects of recovery.