Nicolas Cage stars in this film depicting the true story of the World War II naval disaster that claimed hundreds of lives.
Considering its enormous dramatic potential, it’s amazing that the real-life story of the USS Indianapolis hasn’t been turned into a feature film before now. Unfortunately, the big screen Nicholas Cage-starrer is a sadly lackluster, cheap-looking affair that fails to do the material justice. As banal as its title, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage lacks even the impact of the monologue about the subject delivered by Robert Shaw in Jaws.

Directed in B-movie, uninspired fashion by Mario Van Peebles (who’s proven capable of far better work with such efforts as Panther and Badasssss!), the film relates the tale of the ship that was sunk in 1945 by a Japanese submarine after delivering the components of the atomic bomb to American forces in the Pacific. Because the mission was top-secret, the massive vessel was not accompanied by the usual escort of destroyers. After it was destroyed, some 900 men were left stranded for four days in shark-infested waters. Rescue was slow in coming, as the Navy at first didn’t realize that the ship had been lost, and it was only a routine patrol that came upon the scene. Hundreds of the men died, many of them from shark attacks.

From left: Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Michael Chapman on the set of ‘Raging Bull.’ (Inset: Chapman)
Journeymen screenwriters Cam Cannon and Richard Rionda Del Castro attempt to provide an epic feel by fleshing out the main story with unnecessary, clichéd subplots, including a love triangle featuring two sailors competing for the affections of a Southern belle, that only sap narrative momentum and elongate the running time. The lengthy final section, and most effective, concerns the court-martial of the ship’s captain, Charles McVay (Cage), in which he was convicted for putting his ship in danger despite the testimony on his behalf by the Japanese commander of the submarine that sank it. McVay carried the guilt for the rest of his life and committed suicide in 1968. He was exonerated decades later in a resolution signed by President Bill Clinton.

What should be the most suspenseful part of the story, when the men are helplessly stranded in the water, is undercut by the film’s Sharknado-style approach featuring garish, unconvincing CGI effects that are more unintentionally comical than convincing.
Cage displays unusual restraint in his performance, but because of the flat script he mainly comes across as wooden. The ensemble includes several reliable, familiar faces, including Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane, and James Remar, who are similarly unable to overcome the hackneyed dialogue.

The film is ironically most interesting in its final minutes, which feature archival footage of the rescue and harrowing interviews with several of the incident’s real-life survivors.

Production: USS Indianapolis Production, Hannibal Pictures
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane, James Remar, Matt Lanter, Brian Presley, Cody Walker, Yutaka Takeuchi, Adam Scott Miller, Craig Tate, Johnny Wactor
Director: Mario Van Peebles
Screenwriters: Cam Cannon, Richard Rionda Del Castro
Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, Richard Rionda Del Castro, Francis Gregory O’Toole
Executive producers: Patricia Eberle, Cam Cannon, Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh, William W. Wilson III, William V. Bromiley Jr., Shanan Becker, Ness Saban, Jamal Sannan, Mariusz Lukomski, Yan Fisher Romanovsky, Sean Leigh Hart, Frederico Lapenda, Vladimir Fernandes, Claiton Fernandes, Euzebio Munhoz Jr., Balan Melarkode, Lindsey Roth, Dylan McGinty, Kristy Eberle, Mike Nilon, Robert Nau, Raymond Hamrick, Martin J. Barab, Dama Claire
Director of photography: Andrzej Sekula
Production designer: Joe Lemmon
Editor: Robert A. Ferretti
Costume designer: Patrick O’Driscoll
Composer: Laurent Eyquem
Casting: Melissa Wulfemeyer-Valenzuela
Rated R, 128 min.

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