On board a nuclear-armed Soviet submarine that has gone missing during the cold war, the battle-tested captain (Harris) and a rogue KGB agent (Duchovny) wage a life-and-death game of cat and mouse...with nuclear armageddon hanging in the balance.
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Taut, tense submarine drama is entertaining despite cliches.
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Tomatometer®reviews counted: 20see all Phantom reviews
Top Critic Reviews
Rotten: There's a lot to like about Phantom, but the movie, like the rust-bucket old submarine in which most of it takes place, would be better off dry-docked.
- Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Fresh: "Phantom" has a pulpy B-movie intensity and economy to match its cast of quality character actors.
- Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com, Thursday, February 28, 2013
Rotten: Its] admirable air of realism dissipates once Robinson takes viewers outside the sub, where torpedo skirmishes are staged with too-perfect CGI bombast.
- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, Friday, March 1, 2013
If one requires even a hint of authenticity in the movies he/she watches, I would have to highly recommend against watching Phantom -- a truish tale of a Soviet Cold War era (1968) nuclear submarine on a top secret mission in the South Pacific and the officers onboard. Ed Harris (Pollack, The Rock) plays the sub's captain Dmitri and William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Crash) is his first mate, Alex, while David Duchovny (The X-Files, The Joneses) is KGB-agent, Bruni, who has also been assigned to the mission. Both Dmitri and Alex have reservations about Bruni's role in the mission and soon find out his ulterior motives -- basically to start World War III between the US and China using a top secret sonar device known as "Phantom". While I won't debate whether or not this actually ever occurred (it is apparently still Top Secret within both the US and Russian intelligence agencies), I do have some major problems with the film's particulars. The opening shot spells doom as the naval shipyard is NOT in 1968 Soviet Russia and it gets even better with the contemporary (dreadful) dialogue spoken with nary a Russian-sounding accent in the cast (although Duchovny's very first line sounds as if he is "trying" to speak in a halted Russian accent). With the cast referencing either "vodka" or a "gulag" here or there I guess one is supposed to accept them as communist Soviets. I can understand a film wanting to "throw out" the accent all together to simply focus on the story; but guys call each other "gentleman" here ... which is a bit too bourgeois for my liking as the Red Army overthrew the genteel czarist Russians and this just does not work. The film is simply a mess. The story is an interesting one -- it reminds one of the far better Crimson Tide -- but this film doesn't do any of it justice. If one can make it to the end, I dare one not to laugh at its over-the-top melodramatic conclusion. I couldn't help myself ... just as the studio producing this couldn't help themselves to a history lesson on the downfall of czarist Russia or a Russian-language handbook.
- ThomasJayWilliams, Saturday, July 6, 2013
When compared to the films that came before it, notably Crimson Tide and The Hunt For Red October, Phantom pales in comparison. It has neither the dramatic heft nor the tension of those films to be considered a worthy successor. For all its faults, however, Phantom does generally deliver on its premise and does enough right to make it at least a passing thriller. It's the script for Phantom that feels the most unpolished. The exposition is rushed and a bit hammy, and the dialogue often stilted. The characters are placed in situations which should be tension filled, but pass too suddenly, and to a largely muted effect. This is also a direction issue, with a far too many stylistic indulgences by Todd Robinson. The cast features some reliable talents, but is undoubtedly headlined by Ed Harris, who lifts every scene he's in, and injects the film with the sort of apprehension it seemed to be going for. Duchnovny is a character actor, to be sure, and is a bit miscast but still manages to deliver on his part. William Fichtner, terribly underrated, also brings a fair amount of presence to the screen, and has surprising chemistry with Harris. Though the cast didn't make up for the film's lack of polish, it certainly elevated the otherwise lackluster material. As a pure thriller, Phantom does hit on the major beats one would expect. The story, that of a rogue Soviet ballistic missile sub, is compelling, especially considering it was inspired by real-world events. That it's a very Americanized version, the actors don't even speak with accents, is a bit disconcerting, but the heart of the story does seem to pay off well at the end. Not without some flaws, but an adequate enough drama. 3/5 Stars
- fb704730572, Saturday, July 13, 2013
Now the widowmakers are finally being haunted in this, "K-19 II: The Phantom". Well, this is probably more like "The Perfect Storm II: The Soviets at Sea", because this film just kind of makes up a plot surrounding a mysteriously lost, true story that people have kind of forgotten about, even though it claims to be based-oh, I mean, "inspired" by "true" events. I've heard that line attached to the promotion of so many bogus haunted house films which claimed to be "inspired by true events" that I can't say that I'm all that surprised by the fact that this is a loose historical drama, though that's not to say that you shouldn't go into this film expecting it to live up to its title and actually feature something as exciting as a phantom, no matter how much David Duchovny acts like he's still in "The X-Files". No, people, this film is alright and all, but I stand by my comparing this film more to Wolfgang Petersen films outside of "Das Boot", not just because that film is about Germans, takes place during WWII, is less predictable, is more fleshed out and is two-to-three hours longer than this film, - depending on which version of "Das Boot" you see - but because this film is decidedly not as good as "Das Boot"... and doesn't feature people actually doing the right accent. Granted, "Das Boot" really did feature German actors, so of course they were going to be masters of German accents, but this film about "Russians" is perhaps most like the Wolfgang Petersen film "Outbreak", because it furthers it epidemic, the one regarding American actors' being too lazy to attempt different accents. Oh hey, there was little attempt being put into taking on Russian accents in "K-19: The Widowmaker", so this really is most like "K-19 II: The Phantom", unless, of course, you want to consider it Todd Robinson's follow-up to "Lonely Hearts", seeing as how this film is bound to be as forgotten as Robinson's last thriller. Forget y'all, I still thought "Lonely Hearts" was pretty good, but this film, on the other hand, stands to be more than just decent, and perhaps would have been were it not for its having plenty of issues. You would think that complaints regarding a lack of Russian accents from our leads would be a nitpick and not seem like a big deal, and sure, when it comes to the quality of the acting, it's not, but the American accents distance not only the believability of the film's setting, but your investment in the distinct conflicts that the leads of this film face as Russians during the Cold War - when Communism and conflicts with, of all people, the Americans were as alive as they were in any country in the world around this time - by serving as an instrumental component in the establishment of characters who you cannot fully associate with this subject matter, due to its not being compatible with characters of this, if you will, nationality. If nothing else is offputting about the lack of Russian accents, it's simply the storytelling decision's being a glaring reflection of directorial laziness that borders on embarrassing, maybe even incompetent, which isn't to say that laziness within Todd Robinson's generally rather ambitious storytelling ends there, because even when you look at the script, Robinson retards momentum with repetitious and often meandering fat around the edges of story structure that are made all the more glaring by atmospheric dry spells that, while never really all that dull, bland things up, and prove to be much too recurring for their own good. Even the pick-ups in tension feel rather held back, but more often than not, it's the steadier moments in this drama that you have to worry about, and you can rest assured that there are plenty of those, thus, the final product feels rather limp, as surely as it feels undercooked, as irony would have it, featuring expository depth that is limited within the heads of this small and potentially very accessible cast, and all but thinned into nonexistence when it comes to the secondary leads. The film is underdeveloped, and it's hard not to blame Robinson's writing for that, because as if the limp moments in story structure, as well as fall-flat moments in dialogue, aren't problematic enough, characterization is thin, crafting character types who end up running together, carrying predictable fates behind them, thus leaving the final product to fall short of potential even as a character piece. If nothing else, the near-trite characterization reflects the other near-trite areas in this film's storytelling, which follows a formulaic path in a bland fashion that leaves you to not only meditate upon the natural shortcomings which you can imagine are found within this drama of only 100 minutes, but leave the final product to feel like not much more than another piece in a pile of films of its type. There's not particularly bad about that, because the film is ultimately likable, largely because it is inspired enough to earn your investment at times, but the areas that go tainted by laziness are impossible miss, going into producing an undercooked, formulaic and ultimately rather bland drama that I can't promise will be all that memorable by any means. That being said, while the film is occupying its time, expect most every moment in which your investment is shaken to be met by a moment that helps in keeping you going. Quite honestly, Jeff Rona's score is not without its problems, and they're not always the doing of Rona himself, for although the conventionalism and occasional piece of overstylization within Rona's compositions throw you off a bit, Todd Robinson's cheesily near-abusive usage of the compositions in the context of storytelling help greatly in keeping the overbearing atmospheric areas pumping, while betraying the quality of Rona's efforts, which is, in fact, still rich enough for you to appreciate this film's score more often than not, particularly when the thoughtful, yet somewhat intense kick to Rona's noble efforts are played up at the right moment to flavor up the atmospheric effectiveness of the film, rather than do it injustice. Sure, outside of Rona's efforts and the occasional pretty point in Byron Werner's generally kind of flat cinematography, there's not much in the way of artistic punch-up to compliment within this project, but if there is entertainment value within the film it is typically anchored by the flavorful musical efforts of Rona. There are highlights in style, but it's substance that needs to be most worried about in this drama, so the film stands at great risk of collapse into mediocrity, because its storytelling is faulty, but not so faulty that you're blind to a certain intrigue to this film's subject matter dealing with a dramatization of Soviet men of the Navy facing great internal and external conflicts to keep a raise in warfare at bay, for although the value of this story concept is often betrayed, its presence breathes life into a bit of immediate intrigue, which is then fed by inspired areas in storytelling, or at least acting. There's so little for our performers to work with that they don't even have Russian accents, and that really hurts the effectiveness of our leads as components to the convincingness of this character study, yet the leads ultimately all but compensate, because even though David Duchovny seems to be a touch bland, most everyone has a high point in dramatic acting, with leading man Ed Harris more-or-less carrying the film with a certain distinguished charisma that convinces you of his Captain Demi character's leadership, until broken up by a subtly striking moment of emoting that sells you on the human depths of our primary lead and helps considerably in reinforcing your investment. Harris' performance is too underwritten to be outstanding, but it's a particularly fleshed out and inspired beat within an acting department that is all but populated by decent, if not borderline strong performances, and while the acting can do only so much to compensate for the directorial shortcomings, they anchor this drama, though not alone. As problematic as Todd Robinson's efforts as both writer and director are throughout this somewhat lazy project, when ambition becomes inspiration, effectiveness is, well, not too hard to deny, because Robinson's missteps really do do some damage, but not so much so that those willing to run with this film aren't bound to run into moments of genuine compellingness that convince you on the claustrophobia and, in some cases, intensity of this thriller. If Robinson succeeds at doing nothing else, it is keeping entertainment value from ever slipping too much, for although the film is a bit bland, it rarely, if ever dulls down so much that you can ignore the things that are done right, of which there are enough to make an enjoyable, if underwhelming thriller. Overall, the lack of Russian accents distance you from the effectiveness of characterization enough without being accompanied by underdevelopment which reflects a certain hurrying in storytelling, broken up by many a slow spell that, alongside genericism, bland up storytelling enough for the final product to slip into underwhelmingness, but not quite into mediocrity, thanks to lively score work, a reasonably intriguing story concept, decent acting, - particularly from leading man Ed Harris - and enough entertaining, if not dramatically effective highlights in directorial storytelling to make Todd Robinson's "Phantom" a decent piece of filler within the submarine film sub-industry, at least while you can still remember it. 2.5/5 - Fair
- crossbladezero, Monday, July 29, 2013