Photo courtesy of La Biennale Di Venezia
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is two warring things at once: First and foremost, it is the last film by a justly acclaimed and beloved director, William Friedkin; it is also (and this presents a bit of a problem for the reviewer) a terrible, terrible film. Nobody wants to insult the dead.
The film takes the form, almost exclusively, of a trial, loosely centered on events that took place in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny. In that film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Lieutenant Commander Queeg, a venerable ship captain relieved of duty aboard the Caine, a U.S. Navy minesweeper in the Second World War, after younger underlings, Keith and Keefer judge him to be paranoid and unfit for service, turning the ship’s crew against him. Friedkin’s modern-day film offers a wobbly update of those events, setting the action in the Persian Gulf in 2022.
Friedkin’s film centers only on the court-martial trial for mutiny of the first officer, Stephen Maryk, meaning that the events are relayed to us exclusively via testimony. Lieutenant Barney Greenwald (Jason Clarke, once again playing a courtroom litigant after his exertions in Oppenheimer) acts as lawyer for the defense, interrogating Maryk and gradually making a fool of the bumptious captain, Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland).