At the height of the cold war, the world holds its breath when a Soviet submarine armed with nuclear missiles goes missing in the Pacific. On board the vessel, the battle-tested captain (Ed Harris) and a rogue KGB agent (David Duchovny) are waging a life-and-death game of cat and mouse. With enemy forces closing in and time running out, the captain fights to keep control with nuclear armageddon hanging in the balance.
There’s no sense in being coy about it; Phantom basically rips off two of the finest modern submarine movies: The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide. However, where both these films had a certain gung-ho juvenile attitude, Phantom feels darker and more mature. There are no heroes here, no honor, barely anything to fight for, save for the hope that history will treat you kindly.
Enter a fantastic Ed Harris as the damaged old captain, languishing in the shadow of his brilliant father, and suffering from debilitating seizures. He’s supported by William Fichtner, who performs miracles with his non-existing role as the XO. Opposite them we have David Duchovny, as the rogue KGB agent with a nefarious plan. Duchovny resists the urge to play up the crazy, and goes for a subtle, very effective performance.
With Phantom, director Todd Robinson has created a solid, if somewhat flawed submarine movie. The fact that they shot this on a real boat creates a unique, claustrophobic experience. The tight close-ups make the film feel almost as if the camera crew could barely fit in there (which was the case), and the judicious use of CGI exteriors adds even more realism to the proceedings.
There are a few caveats, though:
First, the accents. Or rather, the complete lack of them. Despite the fact that every single soul we encounter is a full-blooded Russian, not a single actor attempts that classic fake Russian-English accent. It feels a bit odd. I got over it quickly, but I can easily imagine that some viewers might consider it a deal-breaker.
Second, the plot isn’t always as clear is it could be. The film runs into trouble when the inevitable mutiny arrives, and it stumbles at the end with a misplaced and disingenuous finale.
Audio & Video:
Phantom was shot digitally. This is the reality of modern film making. Too bad, this could really have used a gritty old film-stock feel. Much of the film takes place in crammed, dark corners, and that takes its toll on the quality of the images. The details disappear quickly, and often the film looks far from high definition. You might say: That’s the film’s fault – not the Blu-ray, and while that’s true, the bottom-line is that the film doesn’t look as good as it should.
The sound is very atmospheric, though, as it creates a good baseline of subtle submarine noise, which kicks into high gear during the submarine battles or one of the captain’s “incidents.”
- Audio Commentary.
- Facing the Apocalypse (12:58). This “making of” featurette explains how the film came to be – the director is a friend of Ed Harris – and we see how the whole thing was shot using a real submarine. Brief, but very interesting.
- The Real Phantom (6:00) takes a look at the real-life scenarios that inspired the film. Also pretty interesting.
- Jeff Rona: Scoring Phantom (2:59), where the composer explains how he used the real sounds of the actual submarine to create the score!
- “An Ocean Away” Music Video (2:53). Huh?
The disc is locked for region A.
I love submarine movies! I don’t care that Phantom rips off a few classics, it’s such an interesting story and a cool location. The actors do a good job, as does the director, so I can forgive the shortcomings.
Now, dive that boat, fire those torpedoes, and let’s give ’em hell!
Extra Features: B