Unsinkable (2024)


Unsinkable Review

Considered by many as the most tragic films about historical incidents, Roy Ward Baker’s “A Night to Remember” and James Cameron’s “Titanic” tell the story of the sinking of a massive ocean liner in unparalleled ways. From English actor Kenneth More’s emotional portrayal of Second Officer Charles Lightoller in the 1958 version to the ill-fated love between Leonorda DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose in the 1997 film, these performances touched people and never let go.

But there are other movies out there that put their own twist on what happened in 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean. None are like Cody and Brian Hartman’s “Unsinkable: Titanic Untold.”

The Hartman brothers’ film does touch on those moments when people aboard the ship realize they might die and may not know if those around them will, too. But the duo has shifted the focus onto what happens after and it’s suspenseful, almost conspiratorial. The fast-paced historical drama follows William Alden Smith (played by Cotter Smith of Mindhunter and The Americans), a U.S. senator who led Senate subcommittee meetings investigating one of history’s greatest tragedies. “Unsinkable: Titanic Untold” puts viewers smack dab back into an extremely chaotic time not just for victims and families but also for international relations between America and Britain.

For starters, Smith’s official inquiries alone make for great entertainment on screen. Accompanied by a music score that is quiet until it needs to be big, his conversations with deck hands involved that night whether they were aboard Titanic or other ships within range gives “Unsinkable” momentum starting at about the half-hour mark.

This especially holds true with whom he first talks to Sam Turich’s character, Joseph Bruce Ismay. The actor’s mannerisms when responding are rhythmic; he nails playing a person who many scholars feel was wronged by history (and the way the character is angrily treated by Smith is historically accurate). Along with strong dialogue and some foreboding gongs guiding tension between two parties, flashbacks also are used sparingly to show what these same people were actually doing that night.

These moments only add to the movie, making it much more dramatic than all of the slow-boiling suspense before it. For a film on a tight budget, scenes depicting passengers trying to survive out in the middle of nowhere are done really well. The camera focuses on characters without giving too much away in the background, lighting is just enough to mimic natural rays of a dim moon and a sinking ship’s beams.

The water is always rippling. It’s like a massive ocean, threatening to swallow up any who cling to flotsam for dear life. But sometimes, this focus on showing what only needs to be seen becomes a weakness, as the manipulated light hampers the audience’s ability to see too.

Just like with the informal inquiries and life-altering decisions of those aboard the Titanic, there are many stories told in this film one through Smith’s assistant Maggie Malloy (played by Jayne Wisener) and another through newspaper reporter Alaine Ricard (Fiona Dourif). Both actresses give great performances although Wisener’s character doesn’t have much of an arc or add much weight overall she mostly serves as an ear for William Smith when he isn’t investigating or talking to his wife (Karen Allen).

Dourif’s journalist character goes from someone who has to work under a fake name and get beat up for writing the truth to finding a strength inside herself that inspires all real journalists interested in doggedly pursuing facts; she also uncovers some truths even our main character wouldn’t have gotten to alone. Unfortunately she seems like a fictional amalgamation of various other reporters at the time which does impact historical accuracy but still great.

Cotter Smith as a US senator hellbent on finding why the Titanic got here is very reserved. The emotional showing could easily be attributed to professionalisim shown by real Smith during initial proceedings but there was no need whatsoever not show any kind of fervor when your character is the one voluntarily leading these investigations. It’s just generally muted performance that resists emotional investment.

This isn’t say that he can’t bring charged enthusiasm when required either his strong monologue at end of Unsinkable: Titanic Untold shows that he was hiding this side until very end possibly as last plea (from character) towards public press who criticized his way conducting subcommittee or more likely just because script didn’t call for any. Still, more visible cues from Smith would have gone a long way in certain areas especially considering he’s mainly audience surrogate here.

Character development and casting unfortunately do come into question at some points in Unsinkable but other than that, the film definitely shines. It shows not only how the aftermath affects politicians and maritime officials alike but goes even further down, depicting the reverberations on a common, socioeconomic level.

Everyday headlines present a split decision on how Smith conducts his investigations. In the midst of informal Senate meetings and dockside gatherings of former sailors, the upper class complain vociferously about displaced passengers camping in the streets. Later we see these same people visited and comforted by Smith himself. This fleshes out the movie; after all, class consciousness and disparity have long been common themes among Titanic stories.

The Hartmans have certainly made an ambitious drama here. “Unsinkable” presents itself as an accurate look at what many consider to be the most interesting and damning part of any Titanic story: what happened next? Unlike that ill-fated ship, there is plenty this film does right (and quite a bit it does wrong, I’m afraid).

“Unsinkable: Titanic Untold” is a joint production of PMI Films, Hawk Hill Pictures and Movies Plus. Starting April 12th, 2024, it will have a limited theatrical run before being released on DVD later that month. Showtimes can be found by clicking here.

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