Ed Harris-William Fichtner-485
Photo Courtesy of RCR Distribution

It’s refreshing to encounter a movie that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but simply sets out to tell a good story and fulfill the expectations of a genre piece. Phantom is inspired by a mysterious real-life event from 1968 involving a Soviet submarine, but essentially it’s a good, old-fashioned submarine drama that offers a handful of talented actors juicy parts to play. Chief among them is Ed Harris, whose rock-solid portrayal of a career naval officer is thoroughly believable. William Fichtner matches him as his loyal first officer. David Duchovny plays a rogue KGB agent who’s the wild card on what is supposed to be an aging vessel’s final voyage.

Writer-director Todd Robinson gets all the details right: the setting seems palpably real, and the actors all seem completely at home at their stations on the sub. Harris effortlessly embodies the best qualities of leadership, playing a character whose complex backstory is revealed one layer at a time.

David Duchovny-325
Photo Courtesy of RCR Distribution

The one, overriding challenge of watching Phantom is accepting that these characters are Russian. Robinson and/or his actors made a decision not to attempt any kind of accent or dialect. This spares us the spectacle of watching Americans try to convince us that they come from behind the Iron Curtain, yet the complete lack of—what can I call it, Russian-ness?—left me wanting.

Phantom also features some wonky visual effects, but again one either buys into a film of this kind or not. I think the drama inside the submarine outweighs the occasional phoniness of a miniature shot underwater. If only I could have made the same leap of faith about the actors’ nationality…