The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: Review. By Daniel Rester.
The great William Friedkin passed away in early August of this year. He is the director behind such classics as The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). Ironically, this weekend offers releases for both Friedkin’s final film, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, and a legacy sequel to The Exorcist by David Gordon Green titled The Exorcist: Believer.
Friedkin’s picture is launching on Showtime and Paramount+ while Green’s film will be showing in thousands of theaters across the world. While more audiences will likely see Green’s shallow studio sequel due to this, I still urge people to seek out Friedkin’s final effort as it is a good farewell piece from the director. Plus, no sequel or clone could ever possibly come close to Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is scripted by Friedkin and based on the 1953 play of the same name by Herman Wouk, which is itself based on the 1952 novel The Caine Mutiny by Wouk. There have been a few adaptations of the work before, including a 1954 Best Picture Oscar-nominated film with Humphrey Bogart starring and a 1954 made-for-TV version helmed by Robert Altman. Despite the material having been around a while and having had these interpretations, Friedkin shows there is still power and relevance in Wouk’s words.
Jake Lacy portrays Lieutenant Stephen Maryk in Friedkin’s film, which brings the story into the present day. Maryk faces a court-martial after he took control of a Navy minesweeper ship called the U.S.S. Caine, claiming that the captain, Phillip Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland), had become mentally unstable and risked the safety of the crew during a storm. Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke) reluctantly defends Maryk as the courtroom’s members question whether Queeg really was unfit or if his men turned against him because of past disagreements.
None of the The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial shows the actual events on the ship itself. This forces the audience to use their imagination and makes it harder to choose a side as Friedkin paints the courtroom characters in gray instead of black and white. The film unfolds primarily in the courtroom, though it occasionally moves to other locations like a hallway or a hotel.
Despite the limited sets and wall-to-wall conversations, Friedkin still manages to keep the film gripping. He allows his actors moments of rapid-fire dialogue and other moments where a scene gets just the right pause in order to breathe or build tension. The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is never visually magnificent, but it also doesn’t look stale. Freidkin handles the blocking well, especially with Clarke and Monica Raymund (as the prosecutor), with the two actors’ characters constantly moving and drilling witnesses with questions. Cinematographer Michael Grady’s camera floats through the courtroom in a smooth manner while editor Darrin Navarro finds a nice rhythm most of the time.
Friedkin’s understated direction is admirable as he mostly steps back and lets the actors and the writing do the work, never trying to get too flashy or push the actors into melodramatics. Clarke gets the best role as Greenwald both takes his task seriously and questions the trial’s implications. Sutherland is no Bogart, but he does make Queeg a colorful character and he expertly uses body language (especially through his hands). The late Lance Reddick also does well as the judge while Lewis Pullman does a lot with little screen time as Thomas Keefer.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial occasionally drags and some of the minor supporting players as the various witnesses can be weak. The film is still a solid swan song from Friedkin though, featuring strong lead performances and passages that make audiences think about what they would do; the material certainly has a place for discussion in the modern climate of “cancel culture.” In a time with soulless sequels like The Exorcist: Believer, it’s nice to find comfort in being guided by a true craftsman through a drama like The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Friedkin will certainly be missed.
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