Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"The Hunley" with Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland (1999)

When Sue and I moved to North Carolina in 1998, plans for raising the CSS Hunley were already underway. The submarine had been located and marked; all that was left was to raise her; which required both great planning and funding. Both were secured and the Hunley was raised and reconstructed over something like a 5 year period. It was a fascinating process, involving many people; among them author Clive Cussler, who helped finance the effort to raise the sunken vessel.

The movie, which came out in the midst of the real life drama, was one I skipped at the time, opting for the newspaper articles and films on TV to tell me the story of the CSS Hunley, the first sub-surface vessel to successfully sink a surface vessel. Though it ended in disaster, it marked a new era in warfare, and raised the question of just what is moral, or not, in wartime.
But the real meat of this film lies in the performances by Armand Assante, as the beleaguered Lt. Dixon, who must get his vision operable by a certain date for the equally beleaguered General Beauregard, played with style by Donald Sutherland. His haste will be Lt. Dixon’s undoing as he sets out with a crew of nine; some from as far away as Ireland; to do the impossible. The men know that he has lost a crew previously while testing the vessel, but elect to take on the risk for a cause which they believe is  on the verge of dying, but worth dying for. To die with that era seems fitting to them.
Very terse writing, and equally compelling performances by both Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland, make the script by  John Gray, of his story, which was co-written with John Fasano, come to life. Directed by Mr. Gray, he had the films structure clearly in mind prior to filming it, and so it has a feeling of continuity often lacking in other docu-dramas. Great story, if you have never heard about the Hunley, this film is a great place to get started.

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