Review: Submarine thriller rises to the occasion

Review: Submarine thriller rises to the occasion
Ed Harris plays a submarine captain fighting against a rogue political group in the thriller, “Phantom.” Photo courtesy RCR Distribution

“Phantom” is a gripping, suspenseful submarine thriller featuring above-average performances from Ed Harris, David Duchovny, and William Fichtner.Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much out of “Phantom” upon hearing about it. As someone who has seen his fair share of submarines on the big screen, I found myself constantly under the impression that this wasn’t going to be any different from other films in the genre.

Don’t get me wrong I’m a genre fan at heart, so “Phantom” struck me as nothing I shouldn’t be too surprised about. By the time the screening ended, however, what kept running through my mind was anything but a lack of surprise.

Captain Demi (Ed Harris) is tasked with carrying out a highly classified mission that forcibly takes him out of retirement and away from his family. As if his epileptic seizures affecting his perception of reality aren’t enough, members of a rogue political group hijack the submarine and relieve him of his command.

Their leader, Bruni (David Duchovny), intends to use the sub’s nuclear missile to start a war. But what haunts Demi even more than the fate of the world in his hands is his realization that he has been selected for this mission out of belief he would fail.

I liked how the use of a saturated color scheme, mostly yellow lighting and black shadows, and a gritty texture on the images enhanced the claustrophobic atmosphere that comes from working inside a submarine. If there’s one thing you can’t afford to not have in a submarine film, it’s that sense of confinement. Plus, the picture quality helps to establish that air of suspense we’d want to see in a thriller, especially one that takes place in a vessel where tense anticipation is as natural as breathing. And for that, this project has my thanks.

I had the privilege of learning from director Todd Robinson that the film took 20 days to shoot — a relatively short schedule for a film of this kind. It’s amazing how quick the lead actors and extras are on their feet when it comes to learning the basics of Submarine Life 101 within a little less than three weeks of shooting. Everything about submariners, camaraderie, lingo, mechanical systems, navigation, sweating, is pretty much second nature to the cast.

“Phantom” employs a balanced mixture of scale models and computer-generated imagery to create believable sub-vs.-sub sequences, which will satisfy moviegoers seeking a little naval warfare action.

I doubt “Phantom” has what it takes to surpass “The Hunt for Red October” in terms of submarine combat, but there’s no denying the seamlessness in its execution.

Speaking of which, if you’ve watched submarine films before, it won’t be too hard to identify plot elements reminiscent of those seen in other titles (e.g., “The Hunt for Red October,” “Crimson Tide,” and “U-571”). These similarities, however, never drown out the unique pinging noise stemming from “Phantom.” And by “pinging,” I mean the emotional gravitas generated by the crewmembers, all of which propel the story with a philosophical energy that both excites and engages the audience.

One actor you can definitely count on to embody a flawed character is Ed Harris, who asserts his authority as the submarine’s commanding officer with effortless charisma. David Duchovny steals the scene with an equal measure of menace and conviction, creating a layered antagonist who is determined to prove a point.

Though the standout performance comes from William Fichtner as the captain’s close friend/crewmember, whom you might know as that guy whose face is seen in so many movies, yet his name isn’t exactly familiar to many people.

If you’re looking to embark on a harrowing journey in which humans are faced with impossible choices while living inside a submarine, then “Phantom” is the right one for you to say, “Dive, dive, dive!”

MPAA rating: R for violence

Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Playing: General release

 

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