There’s a lot of weird creative decisions in the new submarine thriller Phantom that could end up splitting audiences.
First, everyone speaks with their normal American accents despite playing Soviets out of Mother Russia. Another decision that seems a bit odd is casting David Duchovny (Californication, The X-Files) as Bruni, the film’s villain and a Communist “true believer” as he and his men are called in the film.
Despite these seemingly atypical choices, I highly recommend Todd Robinson’s more independent minded thriller to all Big Hollywood readers. Not only does the movie thrill as a well done and tense submarine movie, but it works as a character piece and actor showcase as well. Everyone is doing excellent work here, especially Ed Harris. The movie is even a little pro-American.
Harris stars as a haunted Soviet submarine captain forced to take one final mission with his crew. He’s not looked upon well by his peers, has a troubled military history and does not live up to his famous and heroic father. In tow for the this final mission is a group of strange individuals lead by Duchovny. Their intentions are not clear, but our captain just wants to finish his seemingly arbitrary mission and head home. Apparently, the mission is to take Duchovny’s character and his team out to open waters to test some new technology.
What happens after the submarine leaves the shore and Harris and Duchovny begin to fight for command of the ship shouldn’t be spoiled here. Some of the surprises and character motivations are what most elevate this script above the typical thriller.
As far as the odd choices, everyone talking in regular accents as Russians works fine. You would think it would be a little weird to hear someone talk about the “Americans” in an actual American accent, but it doesn’t hurt the film. In fact, it helps. It gives the actors room to breathe. We aren’t distracted by phony Russian accents.
This breathing room leads to some phenomenal performances, including one of the best of Harris’ career. The layers he pulls off in this script are astonishing. Other highlights are Duchovny and Fichtner. Fichtner is solid as Harris’ second in command and Duchovny’s calm and collected presence proves he can do more than chase aliens and skirts on screen.
Robinson may not be a familiar name, but he manages to make the screen feel open when he needs to and tight when he needs it. It’s a tough thing to work a camera and a crew in a submarine setting, but he pulls it off. The film may have plenty of tense chemistry between actors and plenty of dramatic beats, but above all it is a great thriller that didn’t let my attention drift for a second.
The script, by Robinson, is very loosely based on actual events. The entire movie is theoretical, but that’s what makes it kinda cool. The final words on the screen give it a “What If” vibe that fits with the movie and story well. The movie is also pretty pro-American. While Duchovny’s character is a soundbite for cold Communist propaganda, Harris’ captain speaks a few times in the movie about actually visiting America. He defends American freedom and choice in the face of his own country’s tyranny. It’s a beat to the script that Hollywood might’ve trimmed had this been a bigger budget film at a bigger studio.
The 20th Century Fox Blu-ray edition includes a digital copy of the film, audio commentary and some cool features that provide insight into the making of the low-budget flick and the “true” story it is based upon. There’s also a music video to boot, so it’s worth the money if you’re fan or know you’re more than likely to dig a flick like this.
Phantom surely has to go down as one of the most underrated movies of the year so far (based solely on media attention and box office). A few aspects might not work for some audiences, but touching ending), but the ones it does work for are in for a treat. Phantom is a first class thriller with great performances and a great story. Simple as that.