Saturday, 22 March 2014


Phantom (2013)

Starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny

Directed by Todd Robinson

"Phantom" is by no means a perfect movie but it is a very well made, effective, and entertaining one. And it's Independent.  The setup is simple; an about-to-retire Soviet Submarine Commander is sent out on one last mission in his old boat, some "special" operatives join him with their own hidden agenda and a top secret cloaking device... Is their intention to defect, or to launch a first nuclear strike against the US? Our captain suspects the latter.

The film certainly plays on, or fits neatly into, depending on your point of view, the traditional tropes of both Cold War thrillers and Submarine movies. The claustrophobia of the vessels generally makes for an extremely atmospheric tension, and this film is no exception. In a way, it's at a bit of a disadvantage because the rules of the genre mean it will immediately be compared to "Run Silent Run Deep" or "The Hunt for Red October". But this isn't to detract from the achievement here. Unassuming, effective direction aside, the real winner in this film is the cast. Ed Harris is simply a superb actor, he's a banker every time and no less effective in embodying his character here than he was in diverse fare varying from "Pollock" to "The Rock" to "The Abyss". David Duchovny is a surprise as the nasty-piece-of-work KGB operative; I've always liked him as an actor ("Return to Me" is an unexpected favourite) and I fear it will be a tag that haunts him for years to come, but here I didn't think about Fox Mulder (one of the all time iconic characters from one of my favourite TV shows ever) or Hank Moody for a second. And particularly, William Fichtner, the supporting actor at the top of any casting director's list, surely, is great as the man torn between loyalty to his captain, duty to the state, and the opportunity for promotion. I can't believe he hasn't been cast as a lead more often. The other supporting cast members were less familiar but also all played well.

It is to be commended, in my opinion, that this was independently made on a fairly tight budget. It just goes to show a good film can be made without a $150 million budget.  In comparison to, say, the ludicrous Tony Scott submarine film "Crimson Tide" it comes out streets ahead.  Sure, there are factual errors here and there, but not that many people would recognize, and the strength of performance and direction win through.

See this movie if you like Cold War or Submarine movies, or are just looking for a slightly offbeat thriller. At just over 90 minutes it doesn't outstay is welcome, and I found the climax to be quite moving. I liked.

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