Put the Nicolas Cage jokes away. He’s the best thing about U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage, a solid (albeit disappointing) old fashioned war movie. This Mario Van Peebles directed drama is the type of thing that Audie Murphy might have banged out in the 1950s. It’s a touch too noble for it’s own good, playing up a selection of WWII cliches without delivering anything new. But it’s an enjoyable time passer that’ll put away two hours with ease.
If you’ve seen Jaws (and who hasn’t) then you’ll know that the U.S.S. Indianapolis was part of the top secret mission to drop the bomb in Hiroshima, a move that helped bring WWII to an end. However, the mission was so top secret that the Indianapolis had so escort and nobody knew it was travelling across the Pacific. After it dropped its cargo, the vessel was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and 300 of the its 1,196 crewmen perished with the ship. The surviving 900 were in shark infested water for four days – and only 317 were ultimately rescued.
True life stories don’t come more fascinating than what happened to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, it’s a tale ripe for the telling and Van Peebles’ film works because the yarn is so good. Cage anchors the nautical drama and he’s responsible for keeping it buoyant, when a lesser lead could have torpedoed things early on. He’s got a few old pros along for the ride with Tom Sizemore and James Remar popping up for support, while Thomas Jane swoops in and out like a flash (he must have been afraid to go back into the water after Deep Blue Sea!). The young cast is interchangeable, stock characters with no discernible difference and it’s hard to care when they become shark bait. Better casting and character building when the flick was still in shallow waters would have helped.
U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage might not have had the budget of a film like Pearl Harbour but some of the film’s shark special effects are quite good (others however, not so much). I was quite taken by Laurent Eyquem’s strong and rousing score, while the film also featured the occasional impressive visual flourish.
You could pick at the problems within U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage like a Great White chowing down on lunch, but it’s an old fashioned tale which is told in a slow and steady way. It could have been a disaster of titanic proportions, but it manages to survive choppy seas and sail back to a safe port. Having said that, it doesn’t have half as much tension as Robert Shaw’s legendary monologue from Jaws.
U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage comes with a rather detailed 30 minute making of. The big takeaway is that Nicolas Cage signed on to the movie because he was eager to make a seafaring yarn.