ⓘ USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

ⓘ USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage is a 2016 American war disaster film directed by Mario Van Peebles and written by Cam Cannon and Richard Rionda Del Castro, based largely on the true story of the loss of the ship of the same name in the closing stages of the Second World War. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane, Matt Lanter, Brian Presley, and Cody Walker. Principal photography began on June 19, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The film premiered in the Philippines on August 24, 2016. It was released as a digital rental on iTunes and Amazon in the United States on October 14, 2016 and in limited theaters during the Veterans Day weekend.


1. Plot

In 1945, the Portland -class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, commanded by Captain Charles McVay Nicolas Cage, delivers parts of the atomic bomb that would later be used to bomb Hiroshima at the end of World War II. While patrolling in the Philippine Sea, on July 30 in 1945, the unescorted ship is torpedoed and sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy IJN submarine I-58, taking 300 crewmen with it to the bottom of the Philippine Sea, while the rest climb out of the ship and were left stranded at sea for five days without food and water in shark-infested waters.

With no hope for five days, most of the remaining crew-members were eaten by sharks or would die of salt water poisoning by drinking seawater which also caused some of those injured to die from infectious wounds. Others swam off from their groups after hallucinating of a non-existent island, never to be seen again. On the 5th day, the surviving crew were rescued by an airplane pilot who spotted them by chance and called for a rescue. Only 316 survived the disaster. Looking for a scapegoat for their own gross negligence, the US Navy court-martials and convicts Captain McVay for "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag", despite overwhelming evidence supporting McVay such as even having the former captain of the IJNs I-58 submarine to testify for the trial, which proved McVay to be not at fault. It ends with Captain McVay finally committing suicide years after the tragedy after being harassed and tormented with phone calls and mail from angry and grief-stricken relatives of the deceased crew-members, as well as the media mostly in the form of newspapers, which placed the blame on him for the ships sinking. In the movies postscript they show President Bill Clinton exonerating Captain McVay of all charges on October 30, 2000.

In a subplot, two childhood friends, Indianapolis diver Brian "Bama" Smithwick and crew member Mike DAntonio, fall in love with the same woman without the other knowing. DAntonio purchases an engagement ring before the trip to Tinian to propose to the girl who tells DAntonio before the trip that she is expecting their first child. During a brawl involving two of the crewmen, DAntonio loses the ring and one of the crew members, Alvin, steals it. After the ship is destroyed, Smithwick and DAntonio spend the next few days in the sea with the rest of the crew where DAntonio succumbs to massive leg injuries received in a shark attack and Smithwick is given the engagement ring by Alvin. Bama proposes to DAntonios fiancee Clara to help her raise her child and she accepts his proposal.

While the credits roll, two Navy sailors recount the sharks in the waters and real rescue footage is shown along with many still shots of lost sailors.


2.1. Production Development

The project USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, set in July 1945, is about the Navy ship USS Indianapolis and was first announced in 2011 by Hannibal Classics. Near the end of World War II, when the ship was returning from Tinian after delivering important parts for an atomic bomb, it was torpedoed by I-58. 1.197 people were aboard the ship, out of which only 317 survived, almost 300 sank along with the ship, and all others were killed by dehydration, exposure, salt water poisoning, or shark attacks. Cam Cannon and Richard Rionda Del Castro, the latter also being engaged as a producer, wrote the script for the film. The focus of the film is on the bravery of the crewmen aboard Indianapolis. On December 17, 2013, Hannibal set Mario Van Peebles to direct the film, while Patriot Pictures would finance and Rionda Del Castro would produce along with Michael Mendelsohn. The studio Hannibal had developed the film in five years by consulting the survivors of the disaster, including the US Navy and the US Coast Guard. The US Navy helped with the completion and finalization of the last draft of the script. Walt Conti of Edge Innovations would provide the animated sharks, and the production reportedly secured two fully operational World War II-era planes to portray the planes that were involved in the real rescue operations after the disaster. Silo Inc. and Hydroflex were attached to handle digital effects and underwater filming for the film, respectively. USS Alabama and USS Drum would both be used along with the Battleship Memorial Park to depict Indianapolis and the Japanese submarine. The film is dedicated to the men of the USS Indianapolis and their families.


2.2. Production Pre-production

On February 5, 2015, Nicolas Cage was set to play the lead role of Captain Charles McVay in the film. Matt Lanter was set on April 1, 2015 to play a US Navy diver, named Chief Petty Officer Brian "Bama" Smithwick. Lanter revealed to the producers after his audition that his grandfather, Kenley Lanter, was a Signalman on Indianapolis. Furthermore, Lanters father, Joe Lanter, is a chairman of Second Watch, an organization of survivors and their families. Joe Lanter and his co-chair, Maria Bullard, stayed in contact with the producers during pre-production and were welcomed to the set during photography. On May 13, 2015, Variety revealed that Tom Sizemore, Thomas Jane and Brian Presley had also joined the cast of the film, in which Sizemore would play McWhorter, one of the crew on the ship, while Jane was to play the pilot Chuck Gwinn. In May 2015, Saban Films acquired the North American distribution rights to the film. On May 18, 2015, Sizemores role was confirmed by Variety. On July 15, 2015, Cody Walker was cast in the film to play one of the crewmen aboard the ship.


2.3. Production Filming

Principal photography on the film began on June 19, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama with many scenes shot aboard the battleship USS Alabama. Filming was also to take place in San Francisco and Kyoto, Japan, but the producers later opted to double Mobile for both San Francisco and Japan. On June 27, 2015, filming was underway in Orange Beach. A World War II-era vintage PBY-6A Catalina amphibious seaplane was being used for the filming on June 29, 2015, when it took on water and beached near the Flora-Bama lounge, Orange Beach. There were no injuries during the incident, and the rescue team secured the pilot and co-pilot. Producers had to put the production on hold temporarily to save the plane, but "the salvage company was unable to save the aircraft," which was broken apart, according to the producers. The plane was provided by firefighters from Washington and was being piloted by Fred and Jayson Owen. After filming on July 14 in downtown Mobile, Cage met a real Navy veteran named Richard Stephens on a bench at Bienville Square, Stephens was one of the survivors of the ship, so Cage and Stephens had a long talk about the disaster.


3. Reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 17% based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 3.4/10. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 30 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".

Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter referred to the movie as "slapdash", and called the special effects "garish and unconvincing"; the movies sharks he thought were "Sharknado-style". Glenn Kenny of thought, just as Scheck and many other reviewers did, that such a "harrowing" story would have been adapted to the screen far earlier. His consensus was the film was "not exactly unwatchable", but also "completely not worthy of watching", with its "lazy inattention to period detail", summing it up as "two-hours plus of bumbling and pandering". Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times criticized the films "lack of subtlety" in dealing with such an "almost unbelievable" story. He called the characters storylines away from the main plot "flimsy" and the special effects "rickety", and noted that the films "leaden" treatment of the central story "suck all the drama out of it".

Experts on the actual sinking have portrayed this movie as a fatally flawed representation of the actual events. Details large and small were wrong, from fictitious crewmembers involved in melodramatic relationships that have nothing to do with the actual history, even to which side of the ship the torpedoes impacted the movie erroneously shows the torpedoes hitting the port side. As a result, it has been held in very low regard by USS Indianapolis survivors and experts.

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