Movie Review: "Phantom"
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Directed by: Todd Robinson
Stars: 3 out of 5
In recent years, filmmakers have used the tag lines "based on a true story" and "inspired by true events" to aid ticket sales. When making movies about actual historical events, these phrases allow the screenwriter and director to employ a large degree of artistic license. "Phantom" draws inspiration from a true event to tell a sometimes interesting story.
The year is 1968, and a group of men are on-board a Soviet submarine. The boat is one of the last remaining old subs used by the country, and the military recently announced the retirement of that sub. Demi (Ed Harris, "Apollo 13") is the captain of the boat and the man responsible for taking her out on her last voyage. Through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, viewers learn that Demi's father was a distinguished engineer and that he spent most of his life trying to make the man proud of him. Also on the submarine are Alex (William Fitchner, "Armageddon"), Pavlov (Jonathon Schaech, "Prom Night"), and Bruni (David Duchovny, "The X-Files").
Demi has no say in the selection of the crew. Bruni is there solely to test a new item for the government, and he frequently butts head with Harris' character when it comes to running the sub. Once the submarine starts sinking, the film breaks into different sub-stories; Demi learns that Bruni wants to start a nuclear war, they constantly fight over how to save the sub, and everyone onboard must fight to stay alive.
You would be right in thinking that is a lot to cover in less than one hundred minutes. Bruni's revelation that he carries a nuclear device is supposed to be a shocking twist, but viewers will see it coming long before it actually happens. Duchovny's character spends far too much time picking fights with Demi for no reason, standing in the shadows watching others and keeping his secret device nearby.
Todd Robinson served as screenwriter and director of "Phantom," and he did some research into the actual sinking of the submarine before working on the film. The Soviet submarine did sink in 1969, but no one knows the actual cause of the sinking. He looked at theories from historians Kenneth Sewell and Dr. John P. Craven, and because those theories seem so unbelievable, their inclusion in the narrative actually hurts the movie. Robinson wants viewers to believe that the Soviets deliberately sank one of their submarines to start a nuclear war, but that plot device seems a little too unrealistic at times.
The flaws in "Phantom" lie solely with the story and not the actors. Harris is an Academy Award nominated actor. As Demi, he channels his acting ability well to depict the man's suffering. The slightly pained and exasperated look on his face helps him show that Demi is a man in constant turmoil. When push comes to shove and he must finally take action, Harris puts a spring in his character's step and a smile on his face, showing that Demi is in his element when he has a worthy adversary.
That worthy adversary comes in the form of Duchovny's character. From the first moment he steps onscreen, viewers will know this is a man with ulterior motives. The way he sulks across the screen, keeping one hand on his device and one eye on Demi, shows Duchovny at his best. Though the actor recently found fans more interested in his personal life than his acting career, he's finally getting back to what he does best.
Robinson made a wise decision to use American actors, though some might take issue with that. The film is clearly set in the 1960s, and the submarine belongs to the Soviets, but not a single actor speaks with even the slightest hint of a Russian accent. Even with names such as Demi and Bruni, some viewers who don't pay close attention might be surprised when they learn it takes place in the Soviet Union.
"Phantom" is clearly not historically accurate, but it is an entertaining film. Harris and Duchovny shine when the time comes for the fight scenes, and Duchovny clearly had fun with his role. He walks around the film like a villain from the silent film era, and he manages to steal a few scenes from the talented Harris. "Phantom" asks viewers to suspend their disbelief for ninety-eight minutes, and those who do so will find the film highly entertaining.