Friday, 23 August 2013

Phantom DVD Review



Writer-director Todd Robinson made a bold move to tackle another submarine film because it’s a claustrophobic subgenre, one which has seen great films like Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October come out of it as definitive films. His biggest strength is tackling it from the side of the Soviets, talking about the missing submarine of 1968 that caused much speculation during the time of the Cold War. Telling a story from the other side but placing American actors in it without the accents is a bold and inspired choice for Phantom. At first it’s hard to adjust but once you realise the director’s intentions – which many may disagree with as “white-washing” – there’s an admiration of the choice made. Americans not being jingoistic or patriotic for America is completely refreshing to see and oddly amusing.

As was said beforehand, the story is centred around a submarine captained by Demi (Ed Harris) going missing during high tensions between America and Russia. With a constant threat of nuclear war looming over the entire world, a submarine carrying such a nuclear warhead going missing is the last thing the conflict needed. On the submarine by someone’s authority is Bruni (David Duchovny) who never reveals why he’s there or why he feels that he has a superiority over the captain. As testosterone starts to fuel rivalry inside and outside the submarine, everything becomes more heated, every look one of animosity, every word hissed rather than said.

Most of the writing seems ordinary because of its clich├ęd nature. Other than being on the other side of the Cold War, it’s still familiar because it is doing the same thing as other submarine films but not as interestingly. It’s as slow as the manoeuvrability of the battleship we’re inside at first, wading the story through custard to create an atmosphere. That atmosphere is typical, it’s an archetype of an atmosphere of feuds. There’s nothing new added to it to make it anything other than dull. Every comment said is expected and nor is it any different from any other military film; all said in the same monotonous tone of military subordination.

Tripping up over its own familiarity makes the first hour of Phantom go by slowly, leaving little to no impression. Once that hour is gone, the groundwork has finally been laid, it becomes something a lot more exciting. Thanks to the performances by Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner mainly, this gets an invigorating breath that it has needed throughout to engage the audience into something that reflects the tension of the Cold War. There’s an intriguing ending that somehow makes this experience rewarding but more could have been done before it to excite the audience. Lacking in subplots could be the reason that this film feels dull beforehand as it’s mainly plot driven which requires us to get to the ending before there’s something interesting. Thankfully, it does pay off to a really good ending that doesn’t fit in with a film devoid of anything entertaining for the entire hour before it. Phantom is interesting but with too few delves into the characters for the hour before, it’s losing the war but winning a battle by firing everything it has at the end.
★★

Extras
Facing the Apocalypse: Making Phantom, The Real Phantom, Jeff Rona: Scoring Phantom, An Ocean Away and a trailer all feature on the DVD and Blu-ray. A nice haul but a commentary by Todd Robinson or members of the cast would be a nice addition.
★★½