By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Set primarily on a Soviet submarine in the midst of the Cold War, writer-director Todd Robinson’s "Phantom" (RCR) pits a crew of seasoned sailors against a handful of the KGB’s most ruthless bad guys.
His drama also implicitly contrasts the Christian faith adhered to by at least some of the former with the cynical atheism prevailing among the latter.
Robinson’s speculative thriller plays off one of the most mysterious incidents in the long struggle between East and West: the 1968 sinking of K-129, a nuclear-armed Soviet sub whose loss has never been fully explained. His screenplay presents a possible scenario of what might have preceded — and caused — the disaster.
The plot centers on honorable but troubled Capt. Demi (Ed Harris). The son of a distinguished World War II-era naval commander, Demi’s own career has been blighted by an incident we initially glimpse only in strobe-lit flashbacks.
On the verge of retirement, Demi is entrusted with a final mission, one seemingly designed to humiliate him. He’s ordered to take the helm of an obsolete, diesel-fueled clunker, and steer it through its final voyage.
Accompanying him will be a group of unwanted guests: intelligence operatives led by steel-willed Agent Bruni (David Duchovny).
Demi’s dislike of Bruni and his ilk turns to suspicion after he discovers that Bruni is bent on a high-stakes clandestine operation that may or may not have been sanctioned by Moscow. As he and Bruni struggle for control of the creaky vessel, with its vast destructive power, the lower ranks are forced to choose sides.
Comparisons between this dive and 1990’s "The Hunt for Red October" are perhaps inevitable; they are unlikely to prove advantageous for Robinson. In fact, this routine military exercise sometimes feels like a warmed-over version of that Sean Connery gripper.
"Phantom" can be honored, though, for its exploration of the nature of heroism. And viewers of faith will be pleased — if not, perhaps, entirely satisfied — by its sporadic showcasing of Demi’s frayed but enduring ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. While Bruni is motivated by a narrow and fanatical patriotism, Demi’s broader humanism can be read as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs.
The film contains some gory violence and intense gunplay, a suicide, fleeting semi-graphic sexual activity, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.