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Phantom: BD Review

Jul 25th, 2013

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This Ed Harris cold war thriller isn't air-tight, but it has its moments....

Fox / 98 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: June 25, 2013

It remains, for this writer, the single greatest moment in John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October. Sean Connery sits there, reading a missive or orders or something with a strained yet steady Russian accent, and McTiernan’s camera moves slowly in toward his lips, and by the time they fill the screen, his faux-Russkie cadence retains its original Sean Connery brogue. With one shot, McTiernan allows Connery and the rest of his cast the chance to stop focusing on their accents and turn that attention to their performances.

I bring this up because in Todd Robinson’s Phantom, he doesn’t deal with the accent issue, instead allowing everybody to just talk how they want. Whether characters are Russian, American, or otherwise, there’s no specific paradigm for how they present themselves vocally on screen. I suppose that in the overall scheme of the moviemaking process it’s pretty trivial, but in Phantom, it’s hard to get around: in fact, it often brings the drama at hand to a disappointing crawl.

This is a shame, because the setup here has a history-buff irresistible allure to it. Basically, in the late 1970s – when relations between the USA and the USSR were at their most volatile – a Soviet submarine went rogue… and was then discovered, sunk, off the coast of Hawai’i. Was this a nuclear bomb strike neutralized by secret USA operatives? A Soviet mission gone awry? Well, the Phantom of the movie’s title is a state-of-the-art Sonar-deflecting device that sub captain Demi (Ed Harris) is nervous about using, but one that KGB bigwig Bruni (David Duchovny) is sure will provide an excellent opportunity for a well-timed piece of Soviet aggression.

In short, Phantom gets its big-picture ideas just right – there’s a marvelous overall sense of vigilante fervor that, blended with the historical fiction at hand, really has a draw – but its execution is a shot and a miss. Robinson misses his opportunity with Harris and Duchovny here: these guys are perfectly placed within the context of the movie, but the way Phantom plays, any major gravitas they can drum up gets torpedoed by choppy editing and uncompelling dramatic inertia.

Maybe we’d have something if McTiernan gave it a shot….

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