A Glimpse of Hell (November 17/02)
A Glimpse of Hell proves that just because a movie's based on a true story, the end result isn't necessarily going to be a compelling and engaging piece of work.
James Caan stars as Captain Fred Moosally, a good natured but irresponsible man who gives his men far more leeway than he probably should. The problem arises when his new Lieutenant, Dan Meyer (Robert Sean Leonard), is encouraged by an overeager engineer to conduct an experiment which will land the Iowa in the record books. Their plan is to shoot a missile farther than has ever been attempted, a feat which puts a tremendous amount of strain on the ship. A fellow engineer (played by Daniel Roebuck) refuses to help out with the trial, because he knows it'll require more strength than the ship can handle. Well, needless to say, the exercise fails miserably - killing close to 50 crew members. The remainder of the film follows the trial and the attempt by the Navy to place blame anywhere but on themselves.
A Glimpse of Hell might hold some appeal for folks that get a kick out of watching the History Channel, but those in search of a film with dramatic content will surely be left disappointed. There's no spark here; the whole thing plays like a cheesy re-enactment - except, obviously, with far better actors. Director Mikael Salomon tries his best to inject some style into the proceedings, throwing in the occasional virtuoso camera trick, but that's akin to topping a really bad cup of ice cream with a delicious chocolate sauce. You're temporarily distracted by how terrible the core is, and soon you're right back to where you were.
It's that plainness that plagues A Glimpse of Hell; with shows like Law and Order and Jag ever-present on TV, just filming a true story isn't going to cut it. For one thing, it has to be an engaging story, which A Glimpse of Hell isn't particularly. The tragedy itself does hold some interest, if on an entirely morbid level. But since, to this day, nobody is entirely sure what caused the explosion, the movie has to end on a note of vagueness. Even the trial sequences, usually a saving grace for a dull flick, are tedious (due mostly to, presumably, the fact that it's slavishly faithful to the original trial's court notes).
The bottom line is that while A Glimpse of Hell will undoubtedly enthrall history buffs, there's little here to keep the majority of viewers engaged.