The Hunley, the latest Turner Network Television drama
to delve into a little-known event from the Civil War era, proves to be a mostly
well-told, emotion-packed look at the first instance of submarine warfare.
Set in 1864, the fact-based drama devotes its first three
minutes to the underwater craft's sinking off Charleston, S.C., and the drowning of
its eight crewmen.
We soon learn that its inventor, a Confederate captain
named Hunley, was among the victims, and that five others had died in a previous test run.
Special effects and digital animation by Station X Studios
of Titanic fame add to the realism.
Armand Assante, as Lt. Dixon, delivers this drama's
most powerful role, spoiled only by the producers' frequent use of flashbacks, which
overplay Dixon's sorrow over his late wife into obsession.
Dixon tries to recruit another volunteer crew for a
hazardous mission -- to break the Union's Charleston blockade -- only to encounter
outright hatred for the project.
Once the Union ships shell the heart of the city, however,
Dixon gets more recruits than he can use for the craft.
Nearly a half-hour is devoted to this motley crew's
training, as the drama becomes something of a buddy film. But only Sebastian Roche truly
stands out as Irish hothead Collins.
An hour into the movie, the Hunley finally goes
after its first Union prey, but it fails. Dixon then proposes a surprise attack further
from shore to avoid the Union ships' netting, and Gen. Beauregard (Donald Sutherland)
suggests that the torpedo be redesigned to attach, harpoonlike, to its target.
During the final minutes, there's triumph and
heartbreak. To me, the dramatic impact is diluted by an ending that runs a few minutes too
long, although others may feel that it brings a sense of closure.
But one question: Why do such highly experienced creatives
-- director/screenwriter John Gray, executive producers Andrew Adelson and Tracey
Alexander and producer Mitch Engel -- feel the need to insert lame attempts at levity?
Examples include one crew member clumsily trying to speak
French to Beauregard, and another offering him a gift of a fish wrapped in newspaper --
moments that sink faster than the Hunley.
The Hunley will bow on TNT July 11 at 8 p.m.