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Case Number 07354

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The Lightship

Paramount // 1985 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 8th, 2005

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All Rise...

Thanks to this movie, Judge David Johnson will never again trust dapper gentlemen from New Orleans who look like Robert Duvall.

The Charge

When the ship hits the fan.

Opening Statement

Robert Duvall (The Godfather) fronts this film as a slimy villain from New Orleans who takes hostage the crew of a "lightship," a stationary vessel that acts as a beacon on the sea. Eventually, mayhem breaks out and blood gets spilled. Bummer.

Facts of the Case

Captain Miller (Klaus Maria Brandauer, Never Say Never Again) prides himself on his command. Though his ship remains anchored permanently, he believes his duty as captain of the lightship is a sacred one: to guide wayward vessels, even provide aid and respite if need be. The newest addition to his small crew, however, will add some instability to his world. His rebellious son has dropped in for a stint on the lightship and is eager to get away as soon as possible. When a mysterious boat floats up to the lightship one day, he sees an opportunity to escape.

But on board is a violent gang of criminals, led by Caspary (Duvall), a soft-spoken, intelligent thug who is willing to kill to achieve his objective. And that objective is commandeering a launch from the lightship so that he and his two goons can high-tail it. The hostage situation is tenuous, as Miller's crew urges him to fight back, and eventually they opt to take it to the criminals themselves. And at the end of the day, there will be some dead people.

The Evidence

The Lightship is a relatively tense little number that benefits from its claustrophobic setting and the jarring realism of the violence. And despite some big-ass plot snafus, the story chugs along with a reasonable amount of suspense.

Probably the best thing about the film is its setting. The lightship, a vessel I had to this point been unfamiliar with, is a bona fide character itself. The cramped cabins, the wind-swept decks, the narrow hallways—they all play an important role in the movie. I dig the idea of a ship permanently moored in the middle of nowhere; it certainly lends itself to being taken over by some well-armed rabble.

As for the criminals, well, believe it or not, we're running Eurotrash-free (Eastern European males are of course the de facto villains for any kind of hostage flick). The antagonists here are colorful: A younger, portlier William Forsythe plays the aggressive, brutish, though mentally challenged Eugene, who tows along his obnoxious brother with the itchy trigger finger. Then there's Robert Duvall's character. I think most people will get a kick out of Caspary, but Duvall's performance is so eccentric it seems contrived. His Southern-tinged, long-winded monologues are too cutesy for my taste; it's like he's not really a bad guy but the writers' idea of what a cool bad guy would be. Thankfully, Brandauer's no-nonsense Captain Miller wittily counters much of the nonsense Caspary mumbles. To that degree, the duo's dynamic is engaging.

The final third of the film represents an excellent exercise in creating tension. Because the situations are crafted to be as realistic as possible, when the crew eventually decides to rise up against their captors, you truly don't know what will happen. The wackiness that ensues is not your typical Hollywood mayhem; there are no quick cuts, no improbable martial arts moves, no physics-defying gunplay. When someone is attacked it seems real. And when someone bites it, it's not in a glorified testosterone-fueled exit. The victim screams and bleeds and pleads for his life. I was impressed.

What prevents The Lightship from becoming a noteworthy little suspense discovery are the numerous holes in logic that abound. The captors stick around on the ship way too long, and the reason is simply Caspary's eccentricity. Plus they don't bind or restrain their hostages, who, by the way, have them outnumbered two to one and have access to sharp objects. Lastly, the resolution to the father-and-estranged-son storyline was completely unsatisfying. All of this holds back what for me could have been a neat little gem.

The film is presented in an uneven 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are sometimes washed out, and the picture quality is shaky. Sound is a respectable Dolby Digital 5.1, though I found the quality too hollow and lacking an aggressive punch. All extras have been cast overboard.

Closing Statement

I can't wholeheartedly recommend this film. Duvall's character and some nagging narrative problems hurt it. I suppose I kinda heartedly recommend it. By the way, this is a very intense movie for a PG-13 rating.

The Verdict

Not guilty, but by a hair. Go swab the deck.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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