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‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’ makes the case for William Friedkin’s final film

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Mounted as the filmed version of a stage play, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” has more in common with “A Few Good Men” than the 1954 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, and might be as notable for its credit list as this sturdy but unspectacular production – marking, as it does, the final film from director William Friedkin as well as co-star Lance Reddick, both of whom died earlier this year.

Friedkin’s adaptation of Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about discord on a beaten-up World War II ship has given way to a contemporary version of the story, setting the action (which transpires in the past, off screen) in the Persian Gulf.

In some respects, it’s fascinating to see the different, slightly more nuanced take that Kiefer Sutherland brings to the pivotal role immortalized by Bogart, Captain Queeg, the ship’s commander, who is suffering from some form of paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder before the abbreviation PTSD found its way into the lexicon.

Setting nearly all of the narrative inside the courtroom does force the viewer to do a little more work puttying in what transpired based on the testimony, with Jason Clarke as defense attorney Barney Greenwald, Monica Raymund as the prosecutor and Jake Lacy as defendant Steve Maryk, the first officer who took control of the vessel when Queeg experienced a breakdown as the crew navigated its way through a tumultuous storm.

Reddick adds welcome heft as the presiding judge, who frequently takes it upon himself to question witnesses, fretting that Greenwald’s heart isn’t in the task of defending Maryk, who was prodded to act by fellow officer Tom Keefer (Lewis Pullman), a central part of the original film that’s one of the weaker elements here by comparison given the stellar casting of the original film.

While “The Caine Mutiny” clearly loses something in translation, the inherent drama of the courtroom faceoff survives intact, with Maryk’s fate hanging on Greenwald’s ability to expose the Queeg whose actions endangered his ship during an extended and tense cross-examination sequence.

Granted, like everything else here, it’s less showy than Bogart’s squirming incarnation, but Sutherland – who also starred in the Paramount+ series “Rabbit Hole” – effectively captures Queeg’s insecurities as he shrinks into his chair.

Friedkin directed all kinds of movies in his storied career – “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection” among them – and by those standards “The Caine Mutiny,” playing on Paramount+ and Showtime, represents a relatively low-key sendoff. Still, it’s a credible addition to that filmography, even if its main allure is essentially presenting a version of the play intended to give its at-home audience the best seat in the house.

“The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” premieres October 6 on Paramount+ and October 8 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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