Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Welcome to another installment of WHAT'S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick a series or film currently playing on Netflix and review it for the readers. This week's selection is a Nicolas Cage film based on true events... USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE.

Here I am, back to check out movies on Netflix for your consideration. I had started out this time with the intention to review another movie I had already seen on Netflix, when my attention was caught by a movie starring two of my favorite actors, Nicolas Cage and Thomas Jane. More than that, it was a movie about an actual event in a part of history that I am particularly drawn to; the South Pacific campaign during WWII. The movie is USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.  The premise of this movie is the frightening true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, an American Navy ship, that during World War II, was sunk by a Japanese submarine leaving 1,196 crewmen stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. As they floated in the ocean on a few life rafts or wearing life-vests, waiting for rescue, they endured extreme thirst, hunger, and relentless shark attacks. 

Like many people, I first heard the story of the fate of USS Indianapolis crew through the character of Quint (Robert Shaw) in JAWS.  His simplistic telling of how the ship went down, 1,196 men went into the water and then the sharks came, is riveting enough in itself. USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage goes one step further and gives the audience a visual and visceral look at the fate of those men, some of whom died of wounds sustained in the destruction of the ship and others who died from the shark attacks. It also provides something that Quint’s telling did not, which is the perspective of the captain and the men of the Japanese submarine that sunk the ship. USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, written by Cam CannonRichard Rionda Del Castro and directed by Mario Van Peebles, is based on the book "In Harm's Way: The Sinking Of The USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors" by Doug Stanton, an unflinching look at what really happened to the crew and officers of the USS Indianapolis.  It also tells us that the Japanese Imperial Navy often put living men inside their torpedoes. Kaitians, as they were called, were the Navy version of the Kamikazi pilots.

In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays Captain McVay, who was in command the USS Indianapolis for precisely 254 days: November 18th, 1944 through July 30th, 1945 and during the harrowing events of the sinking and subsequent events. Cage brings a true presence to the role and does justice to memory of a commanding officer who had to deal with one of the most horrific events any commander could suffer under his watch. Cage brought the right amount of emotion to the role as McVay went from confidently completing his mission to deliver the ‘packages’ to the shocking horror of the attack and dealing with his own injuries and helping his crew as best he could.  Then finally, being brought up for court martial charges. Thomas Jane plays Lt. Adrian Marks, who flies the PBY plane that eventually spots and rescues the stranded crew. He does so with an homage to the style of the man who risked his life in this war to save the lives of others. His character definitely stands out on screen.

Other notable roles in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is Tom Sizemore as Petty Officer McWhorter and Yutaka Takeuchi as the Japanese Commander Hashimoto who sunk the USS Indianapolis, but later came forward to testify on behalf of Captain McVay. Both Takeuchi and Cage gave emotionally moving performances that convey the conflicting aspects of being both warriors bound by duty and men of honor when their characters meet face to face after the trial.  Other notable aspects of the cast of this movie include two characters played by actors with a direct, personal connection to the events: the Grandfather of actor Matt Lanter, who plays Bama, was one of the survivors and Lanter wears his grandfather’s dogtags in the movie.  Actor Johnny Crane plays Granville "GS" Crane, one of the survivors of the attack on the USS Indianapolis and Crane’s real grandfather. GS Crane lost his arm to a shark while stranded in the water.  Watching Crane and Lanter reenact something that happened to real members of their family gives USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage a level of credibility that can’t be duplicated.

Other than the sequence when the ship is torpedoed and goes down, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is not an action movie. The majority of the movie is spent showing the crew of the USS Indianapolis in the water waiting to be rescued and trying to stay away from the sharks which was not all that easy. While the actual attacks by the sharks on the helpless crew are not shown as graphically as they could have been by the film makers and sometimes done by using very ineptly done CGI, the impact of it is nonetheless very frightening. This is because it’s not just fictional characters in some made up story like JAWS. This really happened to real men who were serving their country in a time of war. It gave me chills and had deep emotional impact on me as a viewer knowing there were families out there suffering from the loss of sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers who were never coming home again…not even a body to bury for closure.

Despite the sometimes cheesy and obvious CGI sharks used in scenes for USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, many sequences of the men in the water with the sharks looks so realistic that it gives you chills. Scenes where you watch the men lying still in the water or on the rafts due to hunger, thirst and exhaustion while sharks cruise by them close enough to reach out and touch.  Those scenes are more ominous than the actual ones of the sharks attacking. The movie trades action scenes for these kinds of tension filled ones that make the movie work on many levels. 

As I said, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is not the action type of movie like Pearl Harbor was as it depicted a real event. USS indianpolis: Men of Courage is more about the relentless and nerve wracking events that took place after the sinking of the ship and the enemy became time and a natural predator of the ocean.

I recommend this film to anyone who wants to know what that looks and feels like for the men who died from it and those that lived through it.

Marla’s Score 7/10

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