Blu-ray Review: USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

By , Contributor
Say this much for USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, the historically-based directed by Mario Van Peebles: it might inspire viewers to research the real-life events more deeply. The facts surrounding the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis by Japanese torpedo on July 30, 1945 are truly compelling. If you've seen Jaws you know the horrifying basics, as (fictitious) Indianapolis crew member Quint (Robert Shaw) recalls his experiences as a survivor of the disaster. Men of Courage is a poorly-written, poorly-paced, and at times downright embarrassing effort that does not do its subject justice.

The cut-rate budget doesn't help, but it's not the admittedly rough CG effects that sink the film. The screenplay reeks of its writers' (Cam Cannon and Richard Rionda Del Castro) relative inexperience. Cannon and Del Castro fail to find a focus. They pad the first act with irrelevant back stories for characters we never get to really know. The central figure should've been the devastating story of Captain Charles Butler McVay, who survived the disaster but was subjected to court-martial and whose command decisions were widely believed to be responsible for the death of 879 (of 1,196) crew members.

Nicolas Cage attempts to portray McVay with a sense of gravity, but the screenplay gives him pitifully little to work with. Cage delivers his lines with a monotonous weightiness that is, in the end, no substitute for a three-dimensional character. As Chief Petty Officer McWhorter, Tom Sizemore is given one character trait: he's a new dad who can't wait to see his son for the first time. That he never does isn't so much a spoiler, but an indication of the heavy-handed foreshadowing that plagues the film's first act.

Instead of assuming the shape of a McVay biopic, Men of Courage spends most of its time with the sinking of the ship (staged as a bargain-basement Titanic) and the subsequent drifting of the stranded-at-sea survivors. Even though the sinking of the Indianapolis resulted in the most severe sea disaster for the U.S. Navy during World War II, amazingly no other vessel answered her distress calls. Hundreds of men clung to wreckage, drifted in small life rafts, or simply floated in the water while hoping and praying for rescue. The waters were shark infested. Van Peebles exploits this fact by trying to turn Men of Courage into a shark-attack horror fest.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is technically sound, with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. A surprisingly solid half-hour "making of" featurette sheds light on the film's production.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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