At the start of a naval court-martial, Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke), a skeptical naval lawyer, reluctantly agrees to defend Lt. Steve Maryk (Jake Lacy), a first officer of the Navy who took control of the U.S.S. CAINE from its domineering captain Lt. Philip Francis Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland) during a violent sea storm in unfriendly waters. As the trial progresses, Greenwald becomes increasingly concerned and questions if the events aboard the Caine were a true mutiny or simply the courageous acts of a group of sailors who did not trust their unstable leader.
The Caine Mutiny Court Martial is a movie haunted by ghosts.
There is the ghost of its director, William Friedkin, who died in August. The Caine Mutiny has all his virtues. It’s spare and no-nonsense, efficient in the use of camera angles to get all the tension from the one set courtroom plot, and gets effective performances from every cast member.
The 1954 Humphrey Bogart film is still superior. It opened up the Herman Wouk source, creating a fabulous example of show and tell. It showed what happened on the high seas and then tells it again in the courtroom. Truth allows the audience to see the courtroom deceptions and perceptions. This Caine Mutiny was powerful and memorable.
The Friedkin version is stripped down. Except for the final epilogue, everything occurs in the courtroom. Friedkin tells the story through taut confrontational dialogue and emotionally detailed performances. He layers everything, forces one to listen to what is being said so truth can be found only in the interrogations-cross examinations. It’s more detective than courtroom drama in the way it matches words with body language, creating a base line lie detector for the audience to know where the real truth exists.
The updating to a post-911 world is particularly effective. It shows how personal obsessions can lead to the disaster that was 911. Personal duty not tied to a watchful vigilance to the country’s threats can have disastrous consequences when military alertness is involved. The closing epilogue is now a devastating indictment of chasing fame at the expense of esprit de corps.
Lance Reddick, who died in March, is the last ghost that needs acknowledgment. His taut performance as the military presiding judge keeps everything reined in and guided. There is genuine subdued angst in his performance. This is a career officer watching the respect for chain of command being logically broken down to correct a floundering ship from sinking. The outer storm that is the backstory is mirrored in the emotional storm that is happening inside him. In this worse case scenario is it better to steer into the headwinds of the storm or sail away from it?
The Caine Mutiny Court Martial gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+. It’s streaming on Showtime.
by Herman Wouk
- Annabelle Dunne
- Matthew Parker