What’s the first movie that comes to your mind when I say the words military courtroom drama? If I’m not mistaken, the answer is A Few Good Men starring Jack Nicholson. You can’t handle the truth! Well, the movie we’re going to be talking about today is a downsized version of that classic. And while it is smaller in scale, it packs quite a punch. If you’re willing to get in the ring sort of speak. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is a gripping single-location naval courtroom drama unfolding in real-time. It’s based on Herman Wouk’s 1953 play of the same name.
That play is based on Wouk’s novel in which he used his military experience to construct a compelling story about a Captain of the ship who lost control of his vessel. Wouk served aboard not one but two minesweepers during the WWII. This is why all the jargon and technical details, I felt, were spot on. I know that if you’re not a fan of movies about the military, all of this might sound a bit boring. However, I urge you to give this movie a chance. Mostly because it’s also a fascinating character study that can be applied to almost any occupation.
I would love to go into specific details and talk about the characters but I’m not going to do that. Mostly because I don’t want to spoil anything for you but also to let you come to your own conclusions. When it comes to the movie itself, the opening and closing five minutes were a bit bumpy. So, just be ready for that. Once the court is in session, everything falls into place. This is sadly William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist, The French Connection, Sorcerer) last movie as he passed away earlier this year. And to make things even worse, Lance Reddick (Daniels from The Wire) who plays Judge Blakely here also passed away this year.
U.S. Naval Headquarters, San Francisco. A lawyer is trying to calm his client Lieutenant Maryk who stands accused of mutiny aboard the U.S.S. Caine. He unlawfully took command from Lt. Commander Queeg, Acting Captain of the U.S.S. Caine after saying that he was mentally ill. This is something that Queeg vehemently denies and the lead prosecutor Lt. Commander Challee intends to prove. And with a bang of a gavel, the most important ninety minutes in the lives of these two men begin.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial explores the concepts of responsibility, honor, authority, and discipline. And it does so in a very realistic manner. This is why its conclusions ring so true and actually make you think. Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Clarke gave excellent performances along with Monica Raymund who played her role just right. The movie never slows down or gets boring despite the sometimes too-detailed exchanges about the technical characteristics of the ships or navy life. On the contrary, I found all of them to be quite interesting as I was learning about something I didn’t know anything about.
The thought-provoking finale was executed in a bit messy manner but the message was quite clear. And it gave a whole new dimension to the proceedings presenting a sort of a hidden conflict that is left to the eye of the beholder. Granted, the translation of the proceedings from the WWII environment to a modern one was also a bit messy but still I think The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is a movie worth watching. Especially for those you like courtroom dramas with a twist.
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: William Friedkin, Herman Wouk
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Clarke, Jake Lacy, Monica Raymund, Lewis Pullman, Lance Reddick
Fun Facts: Director William Friedkin had only 15 days to finish the shooting. He eventually managed to do it in just 14 days, one day shy of the deadline Showtime gave him.