Submarine movies are immediately gripping because they are powerful microcosms that amplify conflict. A small group of people in very close quarters, highly trained and with an explicit mission are then completely disconnected from the rest of the world. When problems arise, they have to decide what to do with very limited information and no access to authority outside the ship. Great drama, when it works. This time, though, not so much.
Theoretically “inspired by true events” but more like “a massive flight of fantasy and speculation slightly tied to one possible thing that might have happened,” this submarine story begins with a promising twist. American actors play members of the Soviet navy during the Cold War. We might expect Ed Harris, William Fitchtner, and David Duchovny to be the Americans fighting the Soviets. It takes a few moments to get used to the idea that we are rooting for the guys in the striped shirts pushing the buttons with Cyrillic labels, or at least some of them.
Ed Harris plays Demi, a captain with a dark past (yes, we’ll find out what that’s about) who gets unexpected orders to ship out on a secret mission, his last, on a sub that makes the assignment somehow even more meaningful and ironic (yes, we’ll find out that, too). It is the sub’s last mission, too, before it will be sold to the Chinese.
Because it comes up so suddenly, he gets a new crew, along with two passengers operating under some higher authority but not revealing very much about what they are doing. The leader is Bruni (Duchovny), whose arrogance seems to outweigh Demi’s air of resignation.
Demi is still anguished about a mistake made early in his career and the sense that only his father’s high rank and prestige kept him from being discharged dishonorably. When he discovers that Bruni’s plans would put the entire world at risk, he has to become the leader he once dreamed of being.
Writer/director Todd Robinson clearly cares passionately about the material but he often loses track of the narrative. There are many scenes of people racing and chasing down narrow corridors and men staring and analog instrumentation. There are so many shifting power plays that it is difficult to keep track, and the story escalates so preposterously that it is difficult to care.
Parents should know that this is an intense Cold War story that deals with issues of nuclear war and includes extended sequences of peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.
Family discussion: How should Demi decide which orders to follow? Listen to and discuss the “This American Life” story about the real-life notes provided to British officers in nuclear submarines to be opened in case of catastrophe. What should the note say?
If you like this, try: “Crimson Tide,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”