In 1954, the unparalleled Humphrey Bogart donned the costume of navy captain Philip Queeg in the classic The Ciane Mutiny. 69 years later, William Friedkin reimagines the movie in modern times and uses the material of Herman Wouk to craft the masterful cinematic masterpiece The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Premiering on Paramount+ and Showtime, the movie stars a fantastic ensemble cast, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Lance Reddick, Jason Clarke, and Jake Lacy, among others. There’s not much change in scenery, and the movie rests entirely on dialogue and expressions, and yet, it’s a fantastic piece of work. Here’s a detailed review of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, the final work crafted by Friedkin before he left the world at the age of 87. This movie also carries one of the final appearances of Lance Reddick before his untimely death earlier this year.
What’s The Movie About?
When Captain Philip Queeg (Sutherland) arrives in the courtroom as the prosecution’s witness, he showcases the gravity and charisma that come with being a navy veteran with more than two decades of experience under his belt. As Commander Challee takes on the role of prosecution’s lawyer, immaculate responses to every question and a detailed description of the fated day ring in the ears of every member present in the courtroom. On a day in December 2022, the captain of USS Caine, Queeg, was tasked with taking the ship through a thunderous cyclone that rocked the vessel dangerously. Amidst such circumstances, Executive Officer Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (Jake Lacy) had riled up his fellow crewmates to depose the captain from the post on the grounds that the veteran was unable to carry out his duties. The destroyer USS Caine, at that time tasked with sweeping mines from the Strait of Hormuz, had to be removed from its station, and such actions had landed Maryk in the situation where he’d face court martial, if proven guilty of creating a mutiny against his superior.
On the side of the defense, former navy pilot Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke) acted as the defense attorney, and his questions were cruel, to say the least. Despite repeated objections from Challee and the booming warnings of the President of the Naval Court, Captain Luther Blakely (the late great Lance Reddick), the defense continued its attack. Multiple witnesses are called in, and everyone has their own unique characteristics. While the psychologists and the doctors in the ship, present on the fated day, cleared the captain of any kinds of insanity the defense was bent on accusing Queeg of, while others weren’t so sure. While one crewmate blamed the captain for demanding he pay $1000 for dropping a crate of liquor, others blamed him for totalitarian rules against using the internet, movie privileges, and even eating strawberries on board.
Greenwald was ruthless with his attacks, and it didn’t escape anyone that he aimed to destroy the career of a decorated navy captain. Challee made it a point to refute every malicious question aimed at presenting Queeg in a negative light, but it was Greenwald’s fantastic retorts that made Blakely overrule almost every insinuating question. However, all that the crewmates could say and the doctors reported would only be circumstantial unless there was definite proof that Queeg was indeed unfit to be a captain. Greenwald knew his client well; Maryk was a poorly educated man with barely any knowledge of the mental illnesses that he blamed his superior for possessing. Despite representing a complete numbskull, it fell upon Greenwald to be the best defense he could offer, and as a result, the only option he had was assassinating the character and abilities of a man he knew was a hero. The defense of Maryk rested entirely upon the possibility of proving Queeg was inadequate in his duties, and he drew enough attention to the vile nicknames that the captain was referred to as behind his back.
From asking questions as to how Queeg came to be known as Yellowstain and insinuating through his questions that the captain may have been a coward in the face of extreme danger, Greenwald chipped away at the reputable career the veteran had built up. Challee tried her best to defend a decorated man who wasn’t even on the stand, but instead Greenwald’s client Maryk. However, by then, the defense attorney had convinced the naval court that it was imperative to understand the behavior of Queeg if they were to understand the reasons behind his client’s actions on the day of the incident. Greenwald referred to the fact that the captain had to fidget with two steel balls in his hands whenever he was tensed and that he was a nervous, sweaty man who had slipped up one too often to have an unquestionable character.
When Maryk was brought onto the chair for questioning, he went ahead with further character assassination of his captain and claimed that Queeg had been off his rocker for quite some time. However, Challee arrived and laid Maryk’s intelligence bare for the court to understand that he possessed no qualities that would qualify him to judge a man of Queeg’s talents. All that was left now was to question the captain himself from the defense perspective, and Greenwald didn’t need much. He just had to ask about some of the claims made about Queeg and the captain’s years of nervousness and anxiety, and the paranoia that the crewmates had mentioned came pouring out. While fidgeting with two steel balls, Queeg refused a recess with the prosecutor and went on a rant, explaining why he banned the internet, movies, and even shower rights because the crew was apparently showering for too long. The entire rant was evidence enough that Queeg was a nervous man who had a meltdown in a courtroom, so one could only guess his condition when the USS Caine was faced with a massive cyclone. The final judgment wasn’t declared during the duration of the movie, but both Greenwald and Maryk admitted that the attorney had to destroy Queeg’s reputation while on the stand. Later, they were invited to a party thrown by a fellow crewmate of Maryk, Thomas Keefer, who’d written a successful book. At that party, Greenwald delivered a speech that cut across the people present, and the one person it was directed at was left stunned by the end of it. What was the speech about, and how hurtful could it have been? You definitely need to watch this courtroom drama to experience it for yourself.
William Friedkin was a master when it came to subtle camera work and directions that were devoid of excessive theatrics and yet got the message across. The man who directed The Exorcist was the same who sat in the director’s chair for The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, and the majority of the movie was filmed in just one room. However, Friedkin proved in his final venture as a director that great movies don’t require exploding cars and flying choppers to make a great movie. Instead, he relied on the ensemble cast, where Kiefer Sutherland delivered some of the best performances of his career in the role of nervous and paranoid Philip Queeg. From his incessant rubbing of hands to the slurring of speech when the tension got to him to the severe presence of Lance Reddick as the President of the Court, Friedkin got the best work out of his actors, and that too, relying simply on dialogue and facial expressions.
In many situations, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial shall remind you of A Few Good Men, given how many loud and back-and-forth exchanges the witnesses and the lawyers have between themselves. However, unlike its predecessor starring greats like Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, there’s no big ‘gotcha’ moment at the end of Friedkin’s final directorial masterpiece, and instead, the screen cuts to black after a thunderous speech from Greenwald. Staying true to his style, Friedkin ended with a sudden cut to signify the end of his movie, instead of spoon-feeding the audience an ending. Instead, the audience is allowed free reign to use their own decision to decide who they think is guilty and deserves a punishment far worse than Queeg, whose only fault was being anxious after years of serving.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial spans a total of 1 hour, 48 minutes, and it’s a plethora of words. There’s no action, no flashbacks to the scene of the ship when the events transpired, and the music, if any, is hardly noticeable. Dialogue and expressions do the work and keep the viewers hooked on their screens, once again proving why Friedkin was truly one of the greatest auteurs to grace the cinema. This movie is everything a courtroom drama should be: nail-biting, tense, fast exchange of words, and the intense desire to know the final judgment. Overall, if drama and courtroom are the genres that appeal to you or you’re just a fan of good movies by great directors, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is definitely one you shouldn’t miss.