EMINE – Phantom sinking too deep

Phantom sinking too deepIs it only me who thinks it is alienating to watch American actors with succinct American accents playing Soviet naval officers in the late 1960s, the height of the Cold War? Furthermore, watching these officers address each other with an attitude, as if they were a part of the crew of “Top Gun,” is even more alienating. Thank God, at least the cast has Ed Harris, who tries to save the day with his timeless and chameleon presence.

Some of you might also remember him as the German sniper in Jean Jacque Annaud’s World War II epic “Enemy at the Gates,” a brilliant period war drama set in Soviet Russia that again utilized Western actors but did not in any respect resort to American mannerisms to tell its story.Written and directed by Todd Robinson, “Phantom” sets out to be the archetypal submarine movie in which a certain sense of claustrophobia will not only subject the characters to full-on pressure but also tense up the viewers’ nerves.

The main problem here is, however, that — unlike the classic Wolfgang Peterson film “Das Boot” — the filmmakers have not defined an architectural or special understanding of the Soviet submarine for it to feel like a coherent and confined space. The boat looks more like the underground boiler room of a metal appliance factory instead of a maritime vehicle.

Beyond the spatial inadequacies of the film, there is a significant problem with the character arcs and character dynamics. But let us get back to the story.

Captain Demi (Ed Harris) is a nuclear submarine captain, carrying hefty emotional and psychological baggage on his shoulders. The navy appoints him and his crew on a last mission to steer an outdated diesel-fueled submarine out into the ocean for purposes unknown to the captain.

All are surprised, since the Soviets have already passed on to nuclear technology. When a covert KGB officer named Bruni (David Duchovny, who really looks like he misses his days on “The X-Files”) also boards the ship, the captain and his first officer Alex (William Fichtner) realize something fishy is going on.

It turns out that Bruni is actually a sociopath who mistakes a thirst for violence for patriotic feelings and is keen on setting off a third world war Alex has brought with him a device called the Phantom, which can fake the sound frequencies of various ships. His aim is to fire a missile at an American tanker and make it seem like the Chinese did it.

When Demi and Alex get a gist of Bruni’s evil plans they try to set off a mutiny amongst their crew, only to see that some of them are also working for the rogue KGB agent. Whether or not the good-hearted Soviets will triumph over the evil-hearted Soviets and save the world is the main focus of the film, and it seems like Robinson is out to impose the typical Hollywood good-versus-bad duality on characters from entirely different cultural codes.

If this were actually a story set in an American submarine, we would have been convinced of the plot-points and character attitudes. However, plastering Americanized military culture on a Soviet crew makes the film dubious and uninteresting.

Studios seem to forget that it is the authenticity of a film that lures in an audience, not the homogeneity.Ed Harris puts in his best as the protective and generous leader grieving over wounds from the past, but the story doesn’t clearly establish the association between his guilt and his current situation.

As such, his character’s motivation always seems a bit murky even though we get a basic idea of his personality. If it weren’t for Harris’ charismatic and humane presence, this film would have been lost in the tides of mediocrity for it does not give room for any of the other actors to bring out their on-screen potential.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the finale is too absurd and maudlin to either take intellectually seriously or to empathize with on a human level, despite the righteous intention of trying to show that, American or Russian, all soldiers are human beings with souls.Sadly, “Phantom” does not score in light of its craftsmanship as a military thriller and is not strong enough to aance a political point of view.

It is missing an essential component of verisimilitude.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman