Synopsis: Ed Harris plays the captain of a Cold War Soviet missile submarine who has recently been suffering from seizures that alter his perception of reality. Forced to leave his wife and daughter, he is rushed into a classified mission, where he is haunted by his past and challenged by a rogue KGB group (led by David Duchovny) bent on seizing control of the ship’s nuclear missile. With the fate of humanity in his hands, Harris discovers has been chosen for this mission in the belief he would fail. Phantom is a suspense submarine thriller about extraordinary men facing impossible choices.
Release Date: March 1, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Mystery
Following in the footsteps of Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October and u-571, Phantom takes place in the constricts and confines of a submarine. It’s a naturally dramatic setting, but one that is difficult to pull off successfully. Phantom does a pretty good job of it, as long as the action stays on the sub.
Set in 1968 at the height of the Cold War, Phantom stars Ed Harris as Dmitri “Demi” Zubov, a Soviet submarine commander who, after having just returned from three months at sea, is ordered to take command of an outdated submarine for its last patrol before being sold to the Chinese navy. Demi is no stranger to the sub; it was the first vessel over which he presided. However, it now contains two new pieces of equipment: a nuclear missile and a mysterious device known only as “the phantom.” Because of the quick turnaround time, many of Demi’s regular crew members do not take part in the new mission, and there are a number of substitute crew men aboard, most notably a pair of KGB agents named Bruni (David Duchovny) and Garin (Derek Magyar) who are specifically assigned to the phantom device. As the sub gets farther out to sea, it is revealed that the phantom is actually a high-tech cloaking device that allows the sub to travel undetected by other ships. It is also revealed that Bruni and Garin may not be working for the KGB, and their motives may not be pure. With the help of his first mate, Alex (William Fichtner), and the remnants of his loyal crew, Demi is faced with confronting the rogue agents, with results that will not only affect the submarine crew, but the entire world.
Phantom was written and directed by Todd Robinson (Angel Fire, Lonely Hearts) and, for the most part, the film is a tightly knit, claustrophobic suspense yarn. Like any good submarine film, Phantom takes advantage of the close quarters and isolation and squeezes every bit of suspense out of the characters and situations. The confrontations between Demi and Bruni are intense enough as they are; add to them the fact that neither man can really retreat, whether they want to or not, and the scenes become explosive.
The scenes on the submarine are great; they’re painstakingly shot, well acted, and tensely paced. If there’s an issue with Phantom, it’s the bookends. The beginning of the film seems tacked-on, like Robinson was looking for a reason to put this crew on the sub. Even the presence of the inimitable Lance Henriksen (Aliens) as Demi’s commanding officer, Markov, doesn’t help – in fact, the Markov scene actually serves to confuse more than to provide exposition. And the ending is nothing short of a complete cop-out – a convenient way to get to the credits. When Phantom is judged on the merits of its second act, it’s a great film. When the beginning and ending are considered, its batting average drops considerably.
The genuineness of the film is definitely worth noting. Phantom was shot on board a real Soviet B-19 submarine located at the San Diego Maritime Museum. Because of this fact, Phantom looks great; the submarine scenes ring with an authenticity that could never be achieved on a soundstage. For that fact alone, Phantom is worth viewing. Once the sub is out at sea, the compelling story of intrigue and mystery is all gravy.
One of the more distracting aspects of Phantom is the decision of Todd Robinson to have his actors speak English with no accents. The film takes place in the middle of the Cold War aboard a Soviet submarine that is carrying a nuclear missile, and the only thing that reminds the audience that the crew is Russian is a passing reference to a character’s name (“Alexi” or “Dmitry”) or a fleeting glimpse of a word on a uniform. No one is expecting an entire cast to learn Russian, but the lack of an attempt to recognize the nationality of the sailors is off-putting. At the very least Robinson could have done something similar to what was done in The Hunt for Red October to solve the problem – having the film start in Russian and fade into English so that the audience can understand the dialogue. As it stands, the lack of distinctive nationalities in Phantom takes the politics and nuclear brinkmanship out of it, leaving it to be just a neutral group of men on a submarine.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Todd Robinson
- Screenwriter(s): Todd Robinson
- Cast: Ed Harris (Demi)David Duchovny (Bruni)William Fichtner (Alex) Lance Henriksen (Markov)Johnathon Schaech (Pavlov)Jason Beghe (Semak)
- Editor(s): Terel Gibson
- Cinematographer: Byron Werner
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Jeff Rona
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA