Most of us know that Nicolas Cage has been taking on acting roles in all kinds of genres for the past few years and USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is another in the bag of low-budget ‘big’ stories with a mix of CGI and on location filming. You may be asking why the visuals are necessary to mention so early on, well, it’s a vital part of the narrative but, disappointingly, it ends up being a huge distraction.
Directed by Mario Van Peebles, this action-drama follows the USS Indianapolis in 1945 on a ‘suicide’ mission because they’ve been commanded by President Truman to deliver one of the atomic bombs that would, eventually, end World War II. This story is based on the real events and although it may seem an achievable mission, they were sailing alone in treacherous seas and without any protection from unknown Japanese subs who would sink an enemy on sight.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage initially builds a slight background to some lead characters, beyond Cage’s Captain Charles McWay, but the connection is lost quickly as we’re leaping between different relationships, people and situations without too much of an idea of who’s who. It’s fair to say that the actors involved give decent performances but it’s a limited script without much originality. This may be due to the romanticism involved with the era and how it’s portrayed because it’s hard to get away from the feeling of cliché with many conversations.
Cage gives another solid performance, he rarely fails wherever you place him, and there are also roles for Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane who both had decent careers, with Sizemore being the better, but here they don’t really move past generics.
On the realism side, despite the CGI moments, the Japanese submarine camera work is one of the few times that true tension is built. The steady-cam shots pull you into the action to sense the urgency and, with that in mind, the entire film might have benefitted by a little more focus on the individuals and stories over trying to achieve the ‘bigger’ picture for something of this budget.
Things settle down once they’re hit by a torpedo and the ship sinks and so in retrospect maybe starting here (and letting go of all the early fodder) would have made it more compelling, especially when it’s based around true events and the people involved. Although in the initial sequence of the attack, it felt like they’d taken Titanic, layered their own story over it and then fallen into an aquarium. While I might sound a little cruel, I found it hard to disassociate and maybe that’s the fault of more modern, bigger budget movies.
Frustrating but not terrible, if you’ve a fondness for lower expectations and historic war films, because this is a story worth telling, then you should find something of interest with USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.