Friday, February 10, 2017



Director: Mario Van Peebles
Genre: Action, War
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane, James Remar, Matt Lanter, Johnny Wactor, Cody Walker, Emily Tennant
Runtime: 128 min
Rating: R for war-related images and brief language
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

In July 1945, the USS Indianapolis, a Portland-class heavy cruiser, participated in one of the most important top secret missions of World War II. The ship carried the parts for the first atomic bomb used against Japan, across the Pacific, to an island named Tinian. After delivering their cargo, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and went under in 12 minutes. Of the ship's 1,196 crewmen, 900 survived the sinking. However, after four days adrift, only 317 survived by the time they were finally spotted and rescued. Survival on the wide-open ocean is hard enough when there's a war going on, but what made it worse is that many of the crewmen lost their lives to shark attacks. You might remember Robert Shaw's monologue in "Jaws", which recounted this story to great effect, albeit with a few inaccuracies here and there (See Below).

Despite the magnitude of this tragedy, there have been surprisingly few depictions of it in popular media. Only a 1991 TV film ("Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis"), and a 2015 documentary ("USS Indianapolis: The Legacy") have endeavoured to bring the story to our attention. That is until 2016, when Mario Van Peebles brough us "USS: Indianapolis: Men of Courage". Is it a worthy retelling of those tragic events ? Nope.

The film is an extremely modest effort in every department. The acting is flat across the board. Most of the actors are young and inexperienced and you can certainly feel it throughout. And if any of them do have talent, the script does nothing to help them prove it. It's full of painfully banal dialogue, and the characters are generic stereotypes. They even managed to cram in a love triangle that recalls "Pearl Harbor" and makes it look like a masterpiece. Yes, it's that bad.

USS Indianapolis Men of Courage Image

Nicolas Cage, who stars as Charles B. McVay III, the captain of the doomed ship, delivers a controlled, but sedate performance. Sometimes you can catch a glimpses of a a bored look on Cage's face, which could be interpreted as war-weariness, but I suspect otherwise. McVay was court martialed following the sinking and accused of placing the ship in harm's way by not executing proper evasion maneuvers. The movie's third act explores the events surrouding the trial and it does give Cage a little more to do with the role and even offers him a powerful scene towards the end when he has an emotional face to face with the Japanese commander who sunk his ship. Commander Hashimoto (Yutaka Tekuchi) was brought in to testify against him and the movie does try to flesh him out a little bit. To my surprise, their brief discussion is the only heartfelt moment in an otherwise dull film, and a painful reminder of what the film could have been in more capable hands.

There are other small moments throughout the film that show promise, like a scene in which a sailor carves a piano keyboard into the side of his life raft and starts playing a tune only he can hear while a shark swims by. If only more attention would have been paid to such details.

The film cost $40 million to produce, which seems like a lot of money, but certainly not enough if you want the good stuff. As a result, production values are really bad. The CGI and sets are the first to suffer noticeably. While the awful CGI is thankfully used in small doses and the film's editing helps by limiting its exposure before it starts damaging our eyes, the sets are unfortunately much more visible in their simplicity and lack of period detail. Perhaps the worst offense is that the ship used to portray the Indianapolis, the USS Alabama, is a different class of battleship, and the filmmakers made absolutely no efforts to make it resemble the Indianapolis. Perhaps that would have required additional effects that they couldn't afford. Either way, history buffs will certainly hate this kind of thing.

USS Indianapolis Movie

One of the major elements of the rescue that should have been more thoroughly explored is the intervention of Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks, who was among the many pilots dispatched to assist the rescue operations. He is portrayed in the film by Thomas Jane, but his scenes are so brief and unfocused that they just don't do the character justice. On his own authority, Marks flew to the location of the survivors, and after observing the men being attacked by sharks, he disobeyed orders and landed his PBY Catalina flying boat to pick up stragglers and anyone who was an easy target for the sharks. When his plane was full, the survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cords. All of these things were depicted in the film, but it felt rushed and many details were skipped. Marks saved a total of 56 men that day. And yet, the film never clearly communicates how important his actions were and gives him about five minutes of total screen time.

"USS Indianapolis" is not a fitting tribute for the men who lost their lives and those who survived, and it's not even a decent war film. The tragic story deserved better, but if you can make it through the bad stuff, it's at least worth taking a look if you catch it on TV, since there aren't many alternatives on the subject.



  • A story that has rarely been told in popular culture.
  • A few moments of genuine filmmaking

  • The acting, script, direction and visual effects are all subpar
  • Lack of period details and historical inaccuracies
  • Should have expanded more on the involvement of Lieutenant Marks


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