The words ‘inspired by a true story’ are worth less and less in the world of film as movies drift further and further from the true story and more towards the inspired by. With Phantom we’ve got to the point where they tell you more about the true story in the special features, and it’s actually massively more interesting than the actual movie.
In Phantom, Ed Harris plays a Russian nuclear submarine in the 1960s, who’s about to retire – not least because he’s been having seizures and hallucinations – but is forced to go on one more sub mission. However once out to sea, things go horribly wrong when a radical faction emerges and tries to take control of the vessel. They have a horrifying plan that could alter the course of the Cold War and change the world forever. Only the Captain and the remaining loyal members of the crew can stop them.
The movie has a pretty good cast, with Harris joined by the likes of David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Johnathon Schaech and Sean Patrick Flanery, but they’re all fighting an uphill battle against a dreadful script. It’s crammed full of clichés, and what isn’t cliché is incredibly stupid. Things such as Harris’ hallucinations and Duchovny’s moustache twirling villain are over the top and unnecessary. It feels like a movie that’s afraid of taking a breath, but in throwing everything at the screen it comes across as immensely dumb. Indeed it’s almost impressive that a film set in such an inherently claustrophobic place as a submarine can lack any tension whatsoever.
It’s a real shame as the ‘The Real Phantom’ Featurette talks about the real story the film is very, very loosely based on, and it’s great. In 1968 the Russian sub K-129 went missing and sank. When the Soviets went to look for it, they searched hundreds of miles from where the US knew it had gone down, leading some to suggest it had gone rogue and was planning some sort of strike on America. When the vessel was finally found, some interpreted the damage seen as something that could only have been done deliberately, with the thinking that it happened in an attempt to stop whatever nefarious actions were on inside the sub.
Although there is a measure of speculation to even the true tale, it’s a story about an incredibly dramatic moment when they world may have been on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Although Phantom takes some of the basics of this, its hyperbolic style and addition of endless made-up rubbish rob it of any interest or power it might have had.
Overall Verdict: A great true story that offers endless possibilities is completely trashed by being overly fictionalised. It ends up as a lot of nonsense that comes across as even less believable than a lot of the ‘inspired by a true story’ supernatural horror silliness we’re bombarded with.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac