Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane star in the harrowing tale of real life American heroes shipwrecked in shark infested waters in the waning days of World War II.
Like many of you, my first knowledge of the real-life fate of the USS Indianapolis came during that wonderful scene in Jaws where Quint (played by Robert Shaw) tells his story about being one of the survivors. For those "not in the know", the Indianapolis had the secret mission of delivering necessary atomic bomb parts (including the Uranium needed) across the Pacific Ocean to the island of Tinian to finalize the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima just days later in 1945. The delivery occurred without incident, but the Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine upon its return, causing 300 men to go down with the ship and the remaining 900 or so to be stranded in the water for days – where they started to die off due to injuries they sustained in the sinking, the elements, and, most notably, shark attacks.
The story of the USS Indianapolis has always been a great idea for a feature film (there was a TV version a number of years back starring Stacy Keach, and it's a little-known-fact that one of the abandoned ideas for the first 'Jaws' sequel was to do this story) and we almost get a good one here, but sadly what could have been a really powerful movie is hampered by shoddy CGI work (that looks like it was done for a computer game...from the 1990s) and some frequent over-acting by the cast, most notably the king of occasional ham, Nicolas Cage – who stars at the captain of the ship, Charles Butler McVay.
The movie was directed by Mario Van Peebles, who ironically was a star of the worst 'Jaws' movie of them all, Jaws: The Revenge. 'USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage' isn't that bad of a film, although one could argue that the sharks here often look just as fake (they're mostly poorly done CGI renderings). For every emotional scene Peebles is able to pull off (and he does a nice job on a few of them – my favorite being when an unnamed crewman cuts his raft open and creates a faux piano keyboard out of the insulation, followed by the soundtrack giving viewers a piano solo that exists only in the crewman's mind), there's another where you wish he'd reeled in his talent a bit more. As noted above, Cage is all over the map with his performance, sometimes quite moving, but other times coming off as so stilted or wooden, you find yourself screaming at the screen for another take. The same is true of Tom Sizemore, playing the Chief Petty Officer, who gets seriously injured in the attack and spends most of the movie going between quiet moments of personal reflection and screaming nonsense at the top of his lungs. Of the recognizable actors in this film, only Thomas Jane escapes free of any embarrassment – but that may be because he has only about five minutes of screen time, playing the pilot who spots and begins the rescue of the men stranded in the ocean.
With all its problems, though, 'USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage' isn't a totally dismissible film. It would be hard to screw up a story as harrowing and heroic as this one, and the movie still manages to have some impact with the viewer. Although I'm assuming it was totally a creation of the screenplay, there's a nice (albeit soap-opera-like...think Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor) subplot about two young crewmen played by actors Matt Lanter (whose real-life grandfather was actually a survivor of the Indianapolis) and Brian Presley, who are best friends but also both in love with the same girl back home (played by Emily Tennant). It's pure cheese to be sure, but it also manages to allow the audience to have an emotional investment in the survival of these characters.
I can't bring myself to recommend this movie – it has way too many problems (acting-wise, technical, and a few historical) to do so, but I don't have an issue suggesting a rental for those history buffs out there, or those who always wanted to see a version of Quint's tale where "Eleven-hundred men went into the water, 316 men came out, sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway...we delivered the bomb."
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage' surfaces on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly keepcase, which houses the 50GB disc along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Hacksaw Ridge, Harley and the Davidsons, Standoff, The Trust, and Deepwater Horizon. The main menu features a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections located horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A locked.
'USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment and gets a very nicely rendered 1080p transfer here at the AVC MPEG-4 codec and presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The image here is sharp and detailed, with some nice depth and wonderful colors throughout. Black levels are strong, and any issues with noise creeping into the picture are few and far between. I also didn't pick up any problems with aliasing or banding.
The biggest issue here may be the image is so detailed, it's pretty easy to spot when CGI is being used in the movie – even when it comes to the digitally rendered shark moments (the CGI used for the ships in the film is even more obvious). Skin tones are also inconsistent depending on the locale. When the characters are on dry land, their features are warm and vibrant, but more pale and washed out during their scenes stranded in the ocean. Then again, this may be (and probably is) intentional by the cinematographer, so it didn't cause me to knock points off my video score. The bobbing and weaving of the ocean scenes (the bonus materials on this disc indicate that these scenes were actually shot out on the ocean and not in a studio-controlled tank) also causes some occassional focus issues, but again, this seems to be an issue with the source and not this transfer.
There are complaints to be had about this film, but none of them should be pointed toward this transfer, which is another quality job from the folks over at Lionsgate.
The only audio option here in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is active when it needs to be and doesn't distract with any noticeable problems or glitches. As with most movies, the dialogue is primarily up front and center, with the surrounds used for ambient noises and some nice use of directionality during the movie's battle sequences – like when planes are flying by or when torpedoes are being launched through the water. There's also some LFE use during the explosions that take place in the movie (most notably when the ship is sunk).
All in all, this is a nicely rendered track from Lionsgate and one that provides for a pleasant listening experience for home viewers.
Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
'USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage' is far from a great movie, but it's one that tries to be respectful to its source story and is worth a viewing if one can get past the rather shoddy special F/X and the occasional over-the-top performance by one or more of the actors. Rent it.