With the Oscars this past Sunday, it’s nice to look back on 2012’s year in film because it was one of the best in a while. This year, however, has been a completely different story. Although it’s a general rule that January and February are never the best months for movies, last year had some hits like The Grey and Chronicle, but 2013 has been especially awful so far. From comedies that miss the mark (Identity Thief and the abysmal Movie 43) to really disappointing sequels (A Good Day to Die Hard and Texas Chainsaw 3D), this year has already started off on a horrible note for movie fans. Phantom was a film that before a week or two ago I had no idea even existed. After doing some research, it actually looked like one of those rare sleeper films that actually could have been thrilling if executed well. Ed Harris and David Duchovny are pretty respectable actors and the plot looked interesting (it’s weird seeing the Cold War from the Russian side), so going into this movie I was actually pretty optimistic. Unfortunately, this movie follows the trend of January and February films that leave you nothing but greatly disappointed.
From Tom Robinson, the writer and director of Lonely Hearts, Phantom follows the story of a haunted Captain of a Soviet submarine as he leaves behind his family to lead a mission cloaked in mystery. As they dive deeper and deeper into the ocean, secrets are revealed as the Captain slowly realizes that the keys to preventing a nuclear war are in his hands.
While this might sound confusing, one of my major problems with this film may also be one of its biggest strengths. The dialogue throughout the film is very specific and thorough in regards to nautical terms and ideologies. Now for some, like individuals that have worked on submarines or who follow them regularly, this is a fantastic positive because it allows these specific audiences to really immerse themselves into the situations presented. I’m sure that anyone who has a love for nautical history and terminology will really enjoy this film and what it has to offer and rightfully so. However, for the other portion of audience members like myself, such specific dialogue comes off as really confusing and jarring. Because I had no idea what the crew and Captain were talking about, I really couldn’t empathize with them or even realize what was going on for that matter, that’s how specific the jargon is.
Whether it was because of the dialogue or something else entirely, another main problem with Phantom is that it just doesn’t make you care about any of the events on screen. None of the actors give likable or emotional performances, so any tragic moment on screen doesn’t resonant emotionally; bottom line: everyone felt expendable. There’s a point towards the end where I could tell the filmmakers were going for a huge catastrophe that was supposed to elicit emotions in the audience, but by that point I was so distant from the film that I couldn’t bring myself to care. On top of this, the film took way to long to get started. About 50 minutes into the 90 minute film is where secrets start to come out, is when the true purpose of the mission gets revealed, and is when see somewhat interesting action play out, which is a ridiculously long lime in such a short film.
Phantom is a film that I wanted to like but really just couldn’t bring myself to. Boring and uninspired, the film dragged on from one attempt at being suspenseful or emotional to the next. Like I stated before, someone who is really fascinated by nautical adventures, and more specifically submarines, might really find this film enjoyable and possibly gripping. However, when you play to a very specific audience, you must be ready for the individuals outside of that audience, which in this case is a lot of people, to see past that to what the film really is: dull, poorly acted and written, and really, really confusing.
Review by Nick Franco