William Friedkin’s final movie, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is a great actor’s showcase for Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Clarke.
PLOT: A Naval officer (Jake Lacy) is on trial for mutiny. His court-appointed attorney (Jason Clarke) must prove that his captain (Kiefer Sutherland) was dangerously unbalanced and that mutiny was the only solution to protect the crew.
REVIEW: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is an interesting final film for the late William Friedkin. While most know him for his seventies epics, having directed at least three or four of the greatest films ever made (The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A), many don’t know that he started his career with a couple of films based on stage plays: The Birthday Party and The Boys in the Band. His most recent work, Bug and Killer Joe, were also stage adaptations (of works by Tracy Letts), but The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is more traditionally mounted than those. This is basically a stage play put to film, with no exteriors, no music and only two sets.
The play was written by Herman Wouk in 1953 and was adapted from his own novel, “The Caine Mutiny”. That book was turned into a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart as the neurotic Captain Queeg. Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the role here, seems to be nodding towards Bogey’s performance a bit here, without ever resorting to an impression.
Going into The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, you have to keep your expectations in check. This is an actor’s showcase, with Friedkin mounting it in a no-frills kind of way. Yet, you can feel his passion for the material, which is understandable. Captain Queeg is a classic anti-hero in that he’s a problematic, flawed man who – despite being wrong – deserves some measure of respect. If you read some of Friedkin’s more infamous stories from on-set, including filming the French Connection chase without permits and slapping a priest while making The Exorcist, you can guess that Friedkin perhaps sees much of himself in Queeg. Yet, his work stands the test of time like few other directors because he always had loyalty from his collaborators, which Queeg never had. The mutiny itself was justified, but, as the play and earlier film always presented, it was wrong in many ways.
Two powerhouse performances anchor the film, Sutherland’s and Jason Clarke’s as defence attorney Barney Greenwald. In the original movie, as played by Jose Ferrer, he was a supporting character, but in the play – and here – he’s the star. Greenwald’s big speech at the end of the film drives home the whole idea, culminating in a climactic act punctuated by the movie’s only song – Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown. The rest of the cast is filled out with a bunch of pros, including Lance Reddick in his final screen performance as the head of the military tribunal. Lewis Pullman, a dead ringer for his father Bill, plays Tom Keefer, the manipulative officer who pulled the strings of his more thick-headed superior, Jake Lacy’s Maryk, who comes off far less sympathetic here than he does in other versions of the story.
Notably, Friedkin has updated the story to 2023. The original play was set in the Second World War, but here Queeg is in a very modern Navy, with the prosecuting attorney female (excellently played by Monica Raymund) and Queeg, a veteran of heavy combat in Iraq. Yet, the play is timeless enough that only a little needed to be changed, with Friedkin penning the updated script, which uses a lot of Wouk’s dialogue.
While more of a filmed play than a feature, Friedkin still gives his audience plenty of substance to chew on while providing Sutherland and Clarke excellent showcases for the kind of “big” acting neither gets a chance to do much of these days. Ironically, the film drops on Paramount Plus the same day The Exorcist: Believer hits theaters. Even in his old age, Friedkin was defiantly himself and has made precisely the film he wanted to make. While it won’t be confused with one of his masterpieces, it’s still well-assembled and expertly acted by all involved.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Marital is now streaming on Paramount Plus.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-caine-mutiny-court-martial-review/