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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Phantom

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


David Duchovny stars in a scene from the movie "Phantom."
Set primarily on a Soviet submarine in the midst of the Cold War, writer-director Todd Robinson's "Phantom" (RCR) pits a crew of seasoned sailors against a handful of the KGB's most ruthless bad guys.

His drama also implicitly contrasts the Christian faith adhered to by at least some of the former with the cynical atheism prevailing among the latter.

Robinson's speculative thriller plays off one of the most mysterious incidents in the long struggle between East and West: the 1968 sinking of K-129, a nuclear-armed Soviet sub whose loss has never been fully explained. His screenplay presents a possible scenario of what might have preceded—and caused—the disaster.

The plot centers on honorable but troubled Capt. Demi (Ed Harris). The son of a distinguished World War II-era naval commander, Demi's own career has been blighted by an incident we initially glimpse only in strobe-lit flashbacks.

On the verge of retirement, Demi is entrusted with a final mission, one seemingly designed to humiliate him. He's ordered to take the helm of an obsolete, diesel-fueled clunker, and steer it through its final voyage.

Accompanying him will be a group of unwanted guests: intelligence operatives led by steel-willed Agent Bruni (David Duchovny).

Demi's dislike of Bruni and his ilk turns to suspicion after he discovers that Bruni is bent on a high-stakes clandestine operation that may or may not have been sanctioned by Moscow. As he and Bruni struggle for control of the creaky vessel, with its vast destructive power, the lower ranks are forced to choose sides.

Comparisons between this dive and 1990's "The Hunt for Red October" are perhaps inevitable; they are unlikely to prove advantageous for Robinson. In fact, this routine military exercise sometimes feels like a warmed-over version of that Sean Connery gripper.

"Phantom" can be honored, though, for its exploration of the nature of heroism. And viewers of faith will be pleased—if not, perhaps, entirely satisfied -- by its sporadic showcasing of Demi's frayed but enduring ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. While Bruni is motivated by a narrow and fanatical patriotism, Demi's broader humanism can be read as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs.

The film contains some gory violence and intense gunplay, a suicide, fleeting semi-graphic sexual activity, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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