Phantom (2013)

(Video on Demand, June 2013) The submarine-movie subgenre is interesting in that there are only so many things you can do, story-wise, aboard a submarine.  Sense of isolation; claustrophobia; being stuck with an insane individual; nuclear weapons (sometimes); submarine fights; ocean dangers; the list is finite, and nearly every submarine movie ever made seems to play with the same ideas.  Phantom is no exception: while “based on a true story” (albeit the most incredible interpretation of events, with an added dash of magic science to make things even less plausible), it’s resoundingly familiar in the way it re-uses common plot elements.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing –execution is everything, and writer/director Todd Robinson does a generally acceptable job at transforming a fairly low budget into a cold-war nuclear thriller.  A good chunk of the film’s success can be attributed to a trio of capable veteran actors: Ed Harris as the flawed captain, William Fichtner as his capable lieutenant and David Duchovny as a potentially dangerous outsider.  The film has enough credibility to carry audiences across the less-believable moments, and the sense of tension that comes from being confined in such a small space for so long is also good enough to entertain.  But while Phantom is generally fine for audiences with an interest in its style or subject matter, “generally fine” isn’t enough to elevate it above its subgenre for a wider audience.  It doesn’t help that the film shoots itself in the foot with an ending that tries to fit narrative consolation with cold hard historical fact.  While the result will be just entertaining enough to satisfy those who are predisposed toward submarine movies in general, Phantom doesn’t have what it takes to reach a much bigger audience.

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