Subtitled films rarely get a wide UK release. Unless it’s something really big (such as The Raid 2) there is a notion that some audiences don’t want to read subtitles. However, subtitled films still get a limited release, so here’s the newest subtitled film for 2015, Phantom.
Phantom stars Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif and Sabyasachi Chakraborty and is directed by Kabir Khan. The story, based off the novel Mumbai Avengers by Hussain Zaidi, follows Daniyal (Ali Khan) as he is sent on an undercover mission for India to take revenge on the plotters of the 26/11 terrorists attacks in Mumbai.
While the film takes the event of the 26/11 attacks as a jumping off point, the story is largely fictional. The poster’s tagline is “A story you wish were true” and there is a long message at the beginning of the film saying how the film is not real and should not be taken to be true in any way in a way that almost seemed apologetic before it had even begun. I got the message; I’ve seen a lot of other films that have taken the premise of a real life event and woven a fake story around it. But at least some of those films were good, Phantom is not.
For an action film, the gun and fistfights are pretty dire. At least it doesn’t contain shaky cam, but the film does have a rapid editing style, meaning the cuts are happening quickly enough that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening. Some of the shots during the scenes however are of the lowest quality ever. Blocky, out-of-focus and sometimes not pointed at anything in particular, it boggles the mind that someone thought, “Yep, that looks good enough to put in our film.” The fistfights are laughable, with comedy punch sounds effects and choreographed within an inch of its life by people who don’t know how to fight realistically. Some of the gunfights are done well, but the major one feels like it should be in a parody of a Rambo film as Daniyal rips a machine gun from is turret like a video game character and begins to mow down hundreds of Syrian rebels and members of the Syrian army, giving no regard to whose side they’re on. Coupled with the sometimes hilarious reactions of terrorists screaming “NO!” in slow-motion, the film looks like it was trying to be Team America except still trying to play it straight-faced.
The film has a dual narrative, switching between Daniyal out in the field and his superiors back in India as they guide him to intercept and assassinate the high profile targets that they have located. With these switches you would think the film is setting up a “Situation Room” approach to spying such as the Bourne franchise or Zero Dark Thirty. But the film brings down these conversations to mere exposition dumps just to tell us who the next person to get assassinated is.
Whoever localised the subtitles needs to be fired. While there maybe some words in Hindi that don’t have an English equivalent, the films doesn’t really care and mixes up the words, making some sentences a puzzle to try and understand. Not to mention the many spelling mistakes that feature in the subtitles and the inclusion of subtitled songs (I know anime some times does this but it still seems really odd). The worst thing about the subtitles is that the background can wash out the words. Since the subtitles are white, if the background is white then you can’t see the subtitles. This happens frequently throughout the film, including the first ten seconds when the film is setting up the story. It just screams laziness, and if there is one thing I can’t stand in films it is laziness.
The worst part of the film though is during the first few minutes during the set up of the film. Pictures and photos of the 26/11 terrorist attacks are used to set up the story for the audience, which is fine. Zero Dark Thirty did the same with 9/11 and it worked perfectly to set up the story. But every time one is used a little watermark in the bottom corner saying “Courtesy of Mumbai News Group 2009 © All Rights Reserved.” If this was a documentary, such as Precinct Seven Five or Fahrenheit 9/11 then I would forgive the film, since it needs to reference where it got it’s material from. But in a fictional feature film, it’s just another part that shows how lazy the filmmakers are. When you can’t even be bothered to erase the watermark from your film, you shouldn’t put it in the film.
Last night when I got home from Phantom the film had pummeled me into boredom that I couldn’t get angry about it. But now, I can fully express how mad I am at the film. It’s a film that wastes your time and doesn’t even have the courtesy to be bad enough for a guilty pleasure or an ironic movie night fodder. Maybe Phantom plays better to a home crowd in India, but here it feels like the most slapdash approach to filmmaking.
Score: 1/10 Please don’t give them your money or your time. This film does not deserve it.