Review: 'The Caine Mutiny Court Martial'

By Ben Miles
Lance Reddick as Captain Blakely and Kiefer Southerland (standing) as  Captain Queeg, in Showtime & Paramount +’s “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial”

Herman Wouk wrote the novel, “The Caine Mutiny” upon which the 1954 film of the same title was based. After the success of the novel, Wouk adapted his story – inspired by his own service as a naval officer on two destroyer minesweepers during World War Two – into a two act Broadway play, with a slightly altered title, “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, which is strictly a courtroom drama.

As his last cinematic effort, the late director William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) has adapted “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” into a modern day legal thriller, updated by Friedkin by placing it in the Persian Gulf era, and following the structure of the original play, not the film or Wouk’s novel.

The plot surrounds the takeover of command by executive officer Lieutenant Maryk (Jake Lacey) of the USS Caine, when an allegedly mentally unstable Captain Philip Frances Queeg ( Kieffer Southerland) is accused of “freezing up” during a tumultuous typhoon in the waters of the Persian Gulf, and generally abusing his position of command.

The substantial distinction between the novel and the 1954 film (directed by Charles Laughton and starring Academy Award nominee Humphrey Bogart as Queeg), and the play and Friedkin’s most recent version of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, is that we witness Queeg’s abhorrent behaviors as the drama unfolds in the first two versions of the story.

In the play (and Friedkin’s adaptation) we hear only the testimonies of the crew members and so-called expert witnesses (psychiatrists) as the plot unfolds. It’s not until his final testimony that we grasp Queeg’s mental instability, under the intense questioning of defense attorney Greenwald (Jason Clarke).

The first versions of the story offer more dramatic conflict along with tense seafarering action scenes. The play and Friedkin’s filmed version of the play are a more cerebral examination of discipline, courage and the consequence of duty inflected or neglected, as related solely through testimony.

The courtroom drama examines beliefs, motivations and calls to action, which puts the story in the hands of these credible actors, among which are the late Lance Reddick who is the presiding judge of the court martial proceedings and Monica Raymund as the formidable naval officer assigned to prosecute Lieutenant Maryk. Each performance is fully credible, and the characters are as real in their portrayals as their naval uniforms appear to be (costuming by Louise Frogley).

But the show steeling scene from this “Caine Mutiny Court Martial” is, as in the original film, the breakdown we witness as Captain Queen appears to deteriorate before our eyes while offering his final testimony. Bogart is frighteningly believable in the mid-century film production. Southerland is equally credible and sympathetically pathetic. Also, the reluctant defense attorney, Jason Clarke embodies Barney Greenwald’s eviscerating abilities as a legal eagle, while also displaying a guilty conscience for this keen jurisprudential talent.

“The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” is a courtroom drama, a naval/military spectacle and a sociological examination that will surely be of interest to curious minds and lovers of legal theatrics.

 

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