PHANTOM (Todd Robinson, 2013)
Opens Friday, March 1
Claiming to be inspired by actual events, Phantom is an often baffling submarine thriller that somehow manages to right itself just enough to make it a worthwhile voyage, but only barely. At the height of cold war paranoia, aging ship captain Demi (a strong Ed Harris) is given one last command before he retires, ordered by the oxygen-tank-breathing Markov (Lance Henriksen) to helm the final run of an old, outdated boat that was the scene of a horrific event that still haunts Demi from earlier in his career. His devoted team includes right-hand-man Alex (William Fichtner), ship’s doctor Semak (Jason Beghe), and political overseer Pavlov (Johnathon Schaech), but also boarding the boat are a couple of technicians led by Bruni (a miscast, baby-faced David Duchovny) who deliver special orders to Demi that involve top-secret technology that could very well lead to World War III. Soon there’s a heated battle over control of the ship, as well as the codes that will launch a nuclear missile. Based on the mysterious story of the Soviet K-129 submarine that was explored in such controversial books as Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond’s Red Star Rogue, writer-director Todd Robinson, whose previous film was the underrated 2006 police procedural Lonely Hearts, has created an appropriately claustrophobic atmosphere for Phantom. In order to make the characters more likable and the intrigue more accessible, the actors do not speak in Russian accents; American audiences would most likely not quickly take to men in thick Eastern European accents chugging vodka (and rum) who consider the U.S. the enemy. But Robinson’s script is full of so many holes, containing a multitude of unexplained details that come and go and are never heard from again, that it nearly sinks the drama. But Harris and Fichtner go above and beyond the call of duty to steady the ship in this confusing yet still gripping thriller, even if it’s hard to believe much of this supposedly based-on-fact tale.