Russia, of course!
"Phantom," Todd Robinson's intriguing, if uneven, thriller, dusts off an obscure chapter in Cold War-era brinkmanship, made all the more piquant by the fact that the participants, in this case, were compatriots. The action begins in 1968, when a Soviet submarine captain named Demi (Ed Harris), who's about to retire, receives one last commission -- on a wheezing, clanking rust bucket that still runs on diesel fuel at the dawn of the all-nuclear age. Along with his executive officer, Alex (William Fichtner),
That mystery, along with Demi's haunted past and the growing sense that he has been sent on a ghost mission, gives "Phantom" a compelling frisson, made even more palpable as the true nature of the sub's maneuvers comes to light. Filmed in a real-life Russian submarine docked in San Diego, the movie possesses a cramped, humid sense of verisimilitude, giving viewers vicarious claustrophobia as the vessel plunges down, down, down.
That admirable air of realism dissipates once Robinson takes viewers outside the sub, where torpedo
"Phantom" isn't a cinematic masterpiece, but it tells an utterly fascinating story that turns America-first patriotism on its head. For a generation raised on Cold War paranoia, it will take some adjusting to root for the bad guy, who, in the course of faithfully serving a country not our own, just might have saved the world.