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2013 | 98 min | R | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 01 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Phantom Blu-ray

Phantom Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 1, 2013

Movies about submarines are a rarity, making the relative disappointment of “Phantom” all the more troublesome. While far from a disaster, the picture is exhaustively mediocre, attempting to generate suspense without providing necessary detail, while some critical miscasting lets even more air out of the viewing experience. Writer/director Todd Robinson (2006’s “Lonely Hearts”) certainly has a vision with “Phantom,” mixing masculine men and Cold War tensions in a claustrophobic setting, peppering the effort with chases and torpedo-dodging, but the excitement is ephemeral, washed away by a routine of sweaty stand-offs that aren’t exactly rippling with urgency. “Phantom” has its moments, but not nearly enough of them to rattle nerves in the manner Robinson intends.

Sometime during the Cold War, Soviet Navy Captain Demi (Ed Harris) is handed command of an older submarine about to be decommissioned and sold to China. Hiding his sensitive history with the vessel, Demi accepts his orders, gathering his crew, including Executive Officer Alex (William Fichtner) and Officer Pavlov (Jonathan Schaech), for service, while Bruni (David Duchovny), a guarded KGB official, joins the voyage, tasked with keeping the mission a secret from everyone onboard. Out in the Pacific Ocean, the submarine barely holds together under pressure, while Demi battles with seizures, hit with hallucinations that threaten the integrity of his command -- an affliction protected by his respectful crew. Triggering American interest as the submarine sets course toward the West, Demi tangles with Bruni’s enigmatic ways, eventually discovering the vessel has been fitted with a nuclear weapon and a cloaking device, leaving the disoriented leader to scramble for control of the sub once Bruni reveals the details of the operation.

Perhaps the most important aspect concerning “Phantom” is the lack of cartoonish accents, which is an immediate fear once the setting of the Soviet Union is established, while the cast list is decidedly American, with many in the ensemble unprepared for such a challenge. Robinson wisely does away with the pressure, keeping the visual design of the movie distinctly Russian (though he goes overboard at times, showing the characters munching on tea cakes, and Schaech is the spitting image of Stalin), while allowing the talent to remain comfortable and natural with their own voices, free of an unnecessary burden to approach authenticity. “Phantom” is more concerned with suspense, smartly avoiding distractions emerging from Boris Badenov-tainted verbal escalations.

Inspired by a 1968 incident involving a Soviet submarine on a possible doomsday mission, “Phantom” doesn’t specify its time period, preferring to sustain focus on the characters, not historical details. Robinson’s more interested in crafting a nail-biter anyway, leaving the general vagueness of the material unimportant, with the controlled chaos of the submarine taking top priority. Visually, “Phantom” preserves the tightness of the ship, keeping close on perspiring actors as they spew technical jargon with impressive confidence. There’s also a reasonable level of paranoia to help the movie along, as Demi fears his tainted past and medical issues will sink his career at the very moment it’s drawing to a close, while Bruni and his secret police cohorts maintain a close eye on the crew, attempting to control the sub without disturbing the chain of command. The screenplay is adequate in terms of tension, preserving the mystery of the mission while teasing elements of Demi’s previous horrors, also spotlighting the crew’s efforts to thwart the start of WWIII by crawling around the guts of the ship, trying to dismantle the nuclear weapon.

“Phantom” has its moments of suspense, and Harris can always be counted on to articulate emotional complexity with even the thinnest of screenwriting, but an overall impression is lacking here, lost to a disappointing supporting turn from Duchovny. While physically imposing, the actor is miscast as an iron-willed Soviet champion, too blase to compete with co-stars who possess the passion necessary to generate the requisite unease. The conclusion of “Phantom” also registers as entirely avoidable, with Robinson inventing a mournful, spiritual climax to take over for 80 minutes of cold glares and chases. It’s a last act miscalculation of cinematic profundity that won’t register to anyone outside the film’s most ardent supporters.

While reaching the occasional peak of panic, “Phantom” largely goes about its business without a sure grip on distress, striving more for military realism than filmmaking agitation. When it’s focused, it comes together in satisfactory way, blending crew procedures with stratagem. When it loses its step, it’s utterly forgettable, even with its submarine setting.

Starring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen, Johnathon Schaech, Jason Beghe
Director: Todd Robinson

» See full cast & crew

Phantom, Forum Discussions

Last post
A Sequel to The Phantom!! 18 Dec 26, 2008
The Phantom Returns? 18 Dec 15, 2008
Phantom - March 1, 2013 4 Feb 22, 2013

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