Although Nicolas Cage gets top billing as Navy cruiser Captain Charles McVay in “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” the World War II picture is more about the ship’s crew. It tells the true story of one of America’s most infamous naval losses, filling in the details of the men’s civilian lives and wartime friendships, in order to make their ultimate fates all the starker.
Movie buffs and war historians know all about the Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine, leaving hundreds of sailors to bob in the sea for days, dying of dehydration and shark attacks. The incident formed the basis for a riveting monologue in “Jaws.”
Director Mario Van Peebles brings real tension and excitement to the scenes where these men are surrounded by predators, but the tone of the film is awkwardly split between the grit of modern cinema and the boisterous adventure of old Hollywood. The script by Cam Cannon and co-producer Richard Rionda Del Castro is frustratingly unfocused, jumping from incident to incident while using Cage’s flat, whispered narration to fill the gaps.
The biggest problem though is that Van Peebles and company have tried to re-create the era by making a 1940s-style film, and the artificiality of the dialogue and performances clashes with the subject. This was a horrible chapter in American history, but it seems less so when it’s happening to movie characters, not real people.
‘USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage’
MPAA rating: R, for war-related images and brief language
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood