The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

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The superb adaptation of “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a Showtime/Paramount+ movie that might initially seem insignificant for the man who gave the world “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection,” but this is a deceptively brilliant piece of work, a reminder of the refined, undeniable abilities of its creator, will bear the great William Friedkin’s final credit this weekend. Yes, everything happens in one room, giving it a naturally theatrical air, but Friedkin was always able to adapt stage works for the film without losing what made them successful in their original forms—just take “Bug,” for instance. Here, he uses a remarkably subtle touch, directing a stellar ensemble to deliver enthralling performances while making deliberate camera and editing decisions.

When looking at this rendition of the classic Herman Wouk story of revolt from a distance, one may appreciate what Friedkin adds to it and lament the loss of that particular ability.

With the legendary Lance Reddick playing Captain Luther Blakley, the leader of a hearing addressing the charge of mutiny against one Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (Jake Lacy), “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” also has a front-row seat to the bittersweet nature of the story. Reddick portrays Blakley with such gravitas that it truly grounds the entire situation, reminding one of how much his gravity may influence a production. It seems almost as if God is listening to this.

A court-martial is being held for Lieutenant Maryk due to mutiny on board the Caine, a ship that was caught in a hurricane in the Strait of Hormuz. Maryk and a handful of supporters essentially ousted Captain Phillip Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland) of his leadership during a dispute over how to carry the ship and her crew safely through this natural disaster. Even though Maryk is the one in court right now, defense lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke) knows that Queeg will be the main defendant. Maryk will be released if they can demonstrate that Queeg wasn’t rational enough to command the ship. Lead prosecutor Monica Raymund is portrayed by Lewis Pullman, while Thomas Keefer, a supporter of Maryk on that crucial day, is portrayed by Keefer.

For the most of its action, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” takes place within the courtroom. Aboard the Caine, there are no flashbacks, letting viewers to draw their own conclusions from the key players’ testimony. From the outset, Friedkin, director of photography Michael Grady, and editor Darrin Navarro subtly manipulate the narrative. Consider the first three witnesses. The way Queeg is framed—mostly by himself, with minimal cuts, and up close—is appropriate given his position as captain and the possibility that he may have abused his authority. In order to give Raymund’s Commander Challee the opportunity to share the frame and be cut in a way that symbolizes his inferior standing to Queeg, the second witness, Keefer, is framed a bit further back.

Finally, an underling named Urban (Gabe Kessler) is shot from a distance so that everyone in the room can be seen, rendering the witness small in the frame. Friedkin constantly made decisions, even when he wasn’t emphasizing and underscoring them in the same ways that less accomplished directors do. These subtle decisions have an impact on how we perceive these characters.

Given the recent leadership failures across the world, it doesn’t seem accidental that Friedkin is making this movie right now, even though he doesn’t lean into the readings of a picture about a man who is intrinsically incapable of leading in a moment of unanticipated catastrophe.

There is a weaker version of this that makes its politics more apparent, though I would contend that Friedkin doesn’t avoid that reading at all, particularly in the concluding moments that imply leadership has partially crumbled due to the caliber of the individuals being led.

Friedkin was an exceptional director of performances as well, and he gives Sutherland one of his best acting performances in his career. Sutherland essentially only appears in two scenes—one as a witness for the defense and one as a witness for the prosecution—but he gives a certain intensity to the illustrious Queeg.

This character has frequently been portrayed as a power-mad, wide-eyed individual, but Sutherland almost more accurately portrays him as a PTSD patient whose worry has turned him into a monster. The star, outside of Sutherland, is Clarke. He stands out in particular for the way he captures Greenwald’s general reluctance to kill a final soldier and manages the infamous final moment. Macy and Pullman are also strong actors.

Without giving anything away, the final address in “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” is meant to incite the audience; Friedkin loves to incite. It’s ironic that his final film has such a contentious epilogue, a sequence that may misinterpret the trial’s purported purpose and reveal all of its participants as flawed byproducts of a flawed system.

It’s ideal for a filmmaker who has dismantled the façades of cultural conventions like religion, authority, and even sanity. Additionally, it serves as a reminder of what his leaving has cost us.

On Showtime on October 8 and Paramount+ on October 6 respectively.

 

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