Monday, September 9, 2013

Phantom ~ Five Minutes to Midnight

Phantom - Banner | A Constantly Racing Mind
Submarine movies are not big in Hollywood these days.  I can count the number of sub films of the last two decades on one hand.  Most have to do with Russian submarines during the Cold War era.  “Phantom” is no different.  This American made, American cast, Russian story of how the world avoided World War III will actually leave you on the edge of your seat.  In spite of the flaws, “Phantom's” acting and story makes up for them.  Ed Harris and David Duchovney square off during the height of the Cold War as the clock counts down to Armageddon.
Ed Harris plays Demitri, or Demi, a soon to retire Russian submarine captain whose career has been marred by an accident in the early days as a sub commander.  Demi's career has also wallowed in the shadows of his father, a man whose reputation was hard to live up to by any man, let alone his own son. 
We meet Demi as he receives his orders from Admiral Markov.  They are old friends who both have settled for the commands the Soviets have handed down to them.  Markov alludes to some unfortunate event of their pasts when he tells Demi, "Men like us don't get second chances." 

Phantom - Ed Harris & William Fitchner | A Constantly Racing Mind

He is given as his last command, the submarine he commanded as his first assignment. The K-129 submarine is an old diesel engine antique, due to be stripped of all sensitive equipment and sold to the Chinese.
Although the film is all about a Soviet Union submarine and crew, the actors are all non-Russian, and speak in clear American accent. One may wonder why this is not a Russian language film with English subtitles? Or, why not at least a hint of Russian accents? I don't know, however, I just choose to ignore this flaw and focus on the story and the characters. First we meet Demi's officers as he has the unfortunate duty of informing that their shore leave that was supposed to be three months just turned to three weeks and they were to cast off the next day. The officers were in the middle of a bachelor party. Sasha () was getting married the next morning. First officer Alexi is played by William Fitchner. He is a loyal officer who will soon have his own ship. He and Demi are a team.
If we have learned anything about Soviet era submarine films like Red October, we know if hat the crew also includes a political officer. A man whose KGB affiliations are known to the crew, and his duty is to keep the Captain from defecting. As the last of the crew boards, we meet David Duchovney's character Bruni, a member of OSNAZ, a radical segment of the KGB.

Phantom - David Duchovney | A Constantly Racing Mind

As soon a the boat is underway, Bruno starts making demands of Demi and his crew.  His goal, we find, is to start WWIII. By using the secret technology, that he and his men (almost half of the replacement crew) installed on the sub, they can impersonate any kind of ship. Today, they will pretend that are the Chinese and start a war with America. The USSR, will then, pick up the pieces. As Bruno says "The only nuclear war we can win—one we don't fight."  Tensions rise, the crew takes sides, and the war inside the sub begins.
Many, are sure to look at the tropes of the genre being replayed here as plain B.S.  That may be, however, I remember the days of Civil Defense sirens and drills. I remember that the basement of the local Woolworths as a designated shelter. What people forget, is that in 1968 a Soviet sub disappeared, and possibly went rogue and there is some  evidence that WWIII was averted on the day the K129 sank. The day was March 8, 1968 approximately 1,560 nautical miles (2,890 km) northwest of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean. The ship's typical compliment is about 83 men. However, on the day it sank, there were 98 crewmen onboard the K129.
The film is flawed; however, for fans of Submarine films I think will find "Phantom" an entertaining 97 minutes.  The director seems to have rushed when he was building each of the story's characters.  The lack of accents may also throw some folks off.  The cast and crew filmed all the action in an actual submarine and not on a set.  Filming in this fashion, limits certain camera angles, however, it does add to the sense of closeness and claustrophobia. In some cases, one may tend to dismiss the film as they watch the ending, however, with a title of "Phantom" a viewer should have seen it coming. The score that Jeff Rona comprised for "Phantom" is effective in conveying both mood and tension. 

Phantom - WWIII | A Constantly Racing Mind

Overall, this film, although not destined to go down as a classic like “Run Silent, Run Deep” --  “Phantom” is not a waste of time.

Movie Data

Genre: Thriller
Year: 2013
Staring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner
Director: Todd Robinson
Producer(s): Julian Adams, Pen Densham, John Watson
Writer: Todd Robinson
Rating: R

Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: 3/1/2013

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