The court-martial of the Caine mutiny sends you out to question your beliefs – about war, about service, about insanity, even about right and wrong.
Photo: Republic Pictures/
The world premiere of William Friedkin’s last film in Venice, The court-martial of the Caine mutiny, began with a tribute to the late director (who passed away less than a month ago) by festival director Alberto Barbera and jury president Damien Chazelle. The latter gave a moving speech about the filmmaker, calling him “the kind of director who did it.” The rest of us directors look safe.” The cast was absent due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA/WGA strikes, but if she had been there, another absence would have been noted: that of Lance Reddick, one of the stars, who died last March. Knowing they’re not around is certainly a bittersweet watch – but not a distracting one, because soon it will be The court-martial of the Caine mutiny captures your attention with its sharp, captivating filmmaking.
Friedkin adapted many plays for the screen throughout his career. In fact, he was one of those directors who seemed to know exactly how much they needed to “open up” (or not) make a certain piece into a film. Some, like Tracy Letts insect (a late masterpiece for Friedkin) that required little fiddling. For The court-martial of the Caine mutiny, based on Herman Wouk’s acclaimed 1953 play (which the author wrote as a follow-up to his 1951 bestseller, which in turn was also adapted into a hit 1954 war film starring Humphrey Bogart), Friedkin updates the period and brings it to the point present and the so-called war on terror, but retains much of Wouk’s dialogue and structure, staying within the fixed place of the courtroom and the matter-of-fact rhythm of testimony and cross-examination. The result may seem dry and theatrical at first, but it quickly becomes very captivating. It also feels like a throwback to some of the TV drama work Friedkin did in the 1960s, early in his career. (Perhaps appropriate, this was only just announced The court-martial of the Caine mutiny will stream on October 6th on Paramount+ with Showtime in the US and then make its cable debut on Showtime on October 8th.)
The story follows the trial of Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (played by Jake Lacy in this film), a senior officer who took control of the minesweeper caine by its captain Philip Francis Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland) during a deadly storm. Although Maryk is the accused, his defense attorney, Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke), expertly turns the court-martial into an investigation into the paranoid, petty, and tyrannical behavior of the spirited Queeg – a pattern that we soon discover goes back months, if not years . And let’s just put it this way: those of us who have developed a fetish for Jason Clarke footage, quietly impaling witnesses afterwards Oppenheimer are very lucky.
The odds are against Greenwald and Maryk, and Friedkin slyly nods by shooting the competing attorneys. Military prosecutor Commander Katherine Challee (Monica Raymund) is often seen in close-ups before a row of military judges. The camera follows her as she moves confidently, a subtle visual echo of the institutional power she wields. In contrast, Greenwald and Maryk are often isolated and occasionally photographed from lower angles. We sense that they are fighting against a system against which they have little chance. As the chief judge, Reddick exudes sheer authority and becomes almost like the voice of God.
Since the film is hermetically sealed, it is initially left to the viewers to decide what actually happened on the ship. But the cards are clearly against Queeg, whom Sutherland plays as smug and awkwardly pushy. The actor has played psychos more than once in his career, and while he doesn’t get Queeg that far, by watching him we can imagine what a hurtful experience serving under this guy could be. It is, of course, a different portrayal from Bogart, who played Queeg as a small, clearly frail, darting-eyed man; After a while you started feeling sorry for the guy.
This is not the first film adaptation of Wouk’s play. In 1988, Robert Altman directed his version for television, starring Brad Davis as Queeg, Eric Bogosian as Greenwald, and Jeff Daniels as Maryk. That, too, was a masterful production, and Davis (a fine actor who lost us to AIDS just a few years later) infused Queeg with a grandiosity that made it clear from the start that the man was out of control. And the original work The Caine MutinyWouk’s epic novel, actually showed what happened on the ship and portrayed Queeg as a vain, emotionally unstable dictator. This, in turn, led to the court-martial being an endorsement of the actions of the executive officer and his young allies.
But this is where it gets interesting. In both the novel and the play, Wouk knocks the rug out from under his characters (and the reader, and later the viewer) in a powerful and startling coda right after the trial, in which Greenwald reveals what he really is about Queeg and the men thinks those who rose up against him, some of whom stem from privilege. Elements of Wouk’s own biography are found throughout the story, and a vein of self-criticism is felt in this epilogue; After all, he was a young man serving on minesweepers.
As a result, the finale of each version of The Caine Mutiny ends in a sort of somber homage to the career officers who are on the front lines of a war long before the enlisted men show up. It also suggests that the harshness and brutal infrastructure of the military could well turn people into queegs after 20 years of service. It’s a somber, unexpected, uncertain ending, and this powerful coda is one of the defining elements of any work that includes the words “Caine Mutiny.” Friedkin uses it here too, with a stern suddenness that underscores just how radical it is even after all these years.
However, some might interpret this as a misstep. At the time Wouk wrote, the good war of World War II was still young, and the story’s ultimately patriotic undertones made sense, tempered as they might have been by what we had seen in the courtroom and on board the ship . A common thread in the original play is Greenwald’s Judaism, which initially characterizes him as a kind of outsider in this world and feeds into the ending of the story. (Consequently, the final scene, in which Greenwald confronts the educated mutineers about their actions, works like the different sides of Wouk’s personality—the lower-class Jewish boy who went to Columbia and wrote a best-selling war novel while serving in the army—to each other argue.) In order to update the work for modern times, Friedkin largely dispenses with this once crucial element.
In bringing the story into the present, the director also seems initially caught in a hornet’s nest of discourse, as the legacy of Forever Wars stands in sharp contrast to that of World War II. But I would argue that this adds a surprising complexity to the film and maybe even reinvents Wouk’s coda a bit. It’s not a particularly patriotic ending anymore, but it does draw an even sharper line between the career military officers and enlisted men who emerged after 9/11, essentially marking them as two distinct cultures. “9/11 happened and so many of us banded together to fight the assholes who were making those planes crashing into those towers,” Greenwald recalls, noting his desire to “fly over the Middle East and to bomb some terrorists”. He doesn’t say it with anger or revenge, but with a certain casual bitterness, as if he doesn’t really believe it anymore.
It’s an idea that runs through Friedkin’s work. In 2000, he directed a controversial (and underrated) war film/judicial drama titled Rules of engagement, starring Samuel L. Jackson as a Vietnam veteran who, while protecting the US Embassy in Yemen from a crowd of protesters and snipers, orders his men to fire on a crowd and ends up slaughtering dozens of civilians. Much of this film follows Jackson’s trial as he is defended by an old, retired war comrade, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Stylistically, this edgy, boisterous work is miles away The Caine Mutinybut it has a similarly complicated vision of morality, justice, and the mental pressures of command. Rules of engagement has the Hollywood sheen of a good versus evil blockbuster, but leaves the viewer in a really dark, unsafe place. At the time, it appeared to be a salary photo for Friedkin, who had fought his way back into favor with the studio system after a few missteps in the 1980s. But there were very few mainstream directors who could have pulled off a film like that.
He’s done something similar here, taking in a distinctly somber direction a play whose attitude was forged on the front lines of World War II. Despite its complicated moral vision, Wouk’s ending refocused the story’s emotional focus; Some might argue that it settled matters. Friedkin’s ending leaves one unsure what to think or feel. It makes you question your beliefs – about war, about service, about insanity, even about right and wrong. In this sense, despite the lack of ornamentation and the reduced scale, this Court-martial for Caine mutiny is pure Friedkin.
https://www.vulture.com/article/william-friedkins-final-film-makes-you-question-everything.html William Friedkin’s last film makes you question everything