The submarine film seems to have died off a little bit since semi recent entries like Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19 and Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide, which is why it’s nice to see an effort like Phantom come along. Spare, streamlined and straight to the point, it chronicles the fate of a Soviet submarine crew tasked with transporting a deadly nuclear missile during the Cold War, and the dangerous KGB stowaway who will stop at nothing to gain control of the ship and hijack the warhead. Now, this is one of those films set in Russia but with an all American, English speaking cast, so as long as you can get past that without whining, you’ll enjoy it. What a cast it is though!! Ed Harris brings grizzled nobility to the role of the captain, handpicked for this mission by unseen forces who know of his disgraced past and are betting on him to fail. David Duchovny has always had a bit of slimy, subversive danger to his aura, and he’s in full blown wrecking ball mode as the ruthless rogue agent bent on seizing the vessel and no doubt causing all kinds of global problems in the process. William Fichtner is a supporting standout (when is he not?) as Harris’s resilient second in command, and the crew is populated recognizable faces including Jason Beghe, Jonathan Schaech, Dagmara Dominzyck, Kip Pardee and Sean Patrick Flanery. Throw in an intense cameo from Lance Henriksen and you’ve got one hell of a lineup of heavy hitters onscreen. The intrigue is somewhat cloaked, and the mutiny goes both ways, accented by plenty of palm sweating scenes of suspense, a mandatory staple in any submarine film. Lower budget, yes, but centered on story and character as opposed to action, and notable for a surprisingly esoteric end sequence that I did not expect. Recommended.
I’ve always thought that Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane is the movie Michael Bay made in another reality where he matured a little more. I mean that as a compliment to Sir Ridley and the film. The crisp, aesthetically lighted style has Bay written all over it, but it’s employed alongside a human story of one girl facing some truly daunting odds. Demi Moore plays Jordan O Neill, a determind, plucky individual who has her mind and heart set on going through the infamous Navy SEAL training, making her the first woman to undertake the task. She just wants to do her training like the rest of her peers, but unfortunately her situation comes with a tirade of media attention and notoriety, something which she never signed on for. Corrupt politician Theodore Hayes (the late Daniel Von Bargen smarming it up) wants to ruin her, and he’s at odds with a pushy Senator (Anne Bancroft is as stiff and sour as the glass of kentucky mash she constantly pulls from). Meanwhile, Moore begins her training, thrown in with a bunch of testosterone fuelled dudes, rabid dogs who don’t react well to a girl in their midst. Her instructors do their best, but she meets quite the adversary in Master Chief James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) a no nonsense guy with a razor sharp intellect and a personality to fuel it. Mortensen gets to do something really special with the role. Where other drill instructors in film are somewhat caricatures, monstrous, profane loud-mouths with all the depth of a wood plank, Urgayle has a metallic edge that encases real human qualities beneath. Mortensen latches on to that right off the bat, blessing the film with a fully three dimensional person. The cast is great as well, with work from Kevin Gage, David Warshofsky, Jason Beghe, Morris Chestnut, Jim Caviesel and the legendary Scott Wilson who is mint as the cranky base commander. His dialogue is straight out of a Mamet script and Wilson bites down hard, especially in a scene where he verbally owns Bancroft. Moore is combustible, lacing her take no prisoners attitude with the grace and power of her femininity. She’s also in wicked shape too, her physique a reflection of both Jordan’s commitment to her goal and Demi’s steadfast need to tell the best possible story. This one is far better than some critics would have you believe, with a story arc both suited to the character and theme. It’s also just plain powerhouse filmmaking that chimes in on all the right notes. Awesome stuff.