Movie Review: Phantom (2015)

Phantom2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Phantom is a revenge fantasy inspired by the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. As political wish-fulfillment, the movie is entertaining enough, but it isn’t truly satisfying.

Phantom opens with a short primer on the attacks that includes harrowing actual news footage. Then the film’s hero, “Jude” (Saif Ali Khan), makes his entrance in unheroic fashion. He engages in a road rage car chase through Chicago that ends in him punching a man who falls to his death in the Chicago River.

“Jude” is an alias of Daniyal Khan, a dishonorably discharged Indian Army officer on a secret mission to assassinate the four masterminds of the 26/11 attacks. His mission first takes him to London, where he meets his contact, Nawaz (Katrina Kaif).

Nawaz has a complicated job description. She works for the not-so-subtly-named US military contractor Dark Water, coordinating security for refugee camps run by Medicine International, who she may also work for.

Daniyal kills the man Nawaz is hired to identify — a high-ranking terrorist trainer — and she is furious for being dragged into his deadly scheme. Still, when she gets a coded phone call from Daniyal, she agrees to help him in his next mission: exterminate David Coleman Headley in jail in Chicago.

While Daniyal receives off-the-record assistance from India’s intelligence agency, their counterparts in Pakistan conclude that the deaths of such prominent terrorists are connected. The Pakistani agents try to identify the man responsible, but Daniyal is always one step ahead of them.

Phantom has an apt tagline: “A story you wish were true.” The notion of one man, freed from political constraints, taking out not one, but four of the most wanted terrorists in the world is immensely appealing. Getting to join him for the ride — with all its accompanying car chases, fist fights, and espionage — makes it even better.

Still, there’s a nagging feeling throughout the film: it couldn’t happen like this. It took ten years and a whole team of US special forces soldiers to kill Osama Bin Laden. One guy with no advanced military training taking out four terrorists in the span of a few months?

It all comes too easy for Daniyal. His most perilous moments consist of him bobbling something in his hand and being delayed by a stalled auto-rickshaw. There’s no one on the ground tracking him; the Pakistani agents gather their information on him remotely. As a result, the movie lacks tension.

Director Kabir Khan wisely resists forcing a love story into the narrative. Daniyal has bigger fish to fry, and Nawaz is rightfully wary of him. Focusing on the two leads as professionals, not lovers, also frees Khan and Kaif to give grounded performances.

One other performance needs special acknowledgement. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who plays the Indian intelligence officer who masterminds the mission, deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for persevering in the face of nonsense. This time, he’s forced to give a corny speech, urging Indian naval officers to pluck up their courage and buck orders for the sake of this one man — this one man! — who was willing to risk his life for India.

Ayyub’s speech is part of a third act that is cheesier than the rest of the film. Fortunately, Director Khan ends Phantom on a contemplative note that befits the seriousness of the events that inspired it. We can wish for an easy path to justice, but we can never take it lightly.

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21 thoughts on “Movie Review: Phantom (2015)

  1. Paul Smithson

    Sounds like a really fair review Kathy. It has got panned by some critics and the IMDB rating was 4.4 when I last looked. I was thinking of going to see it last night, but when I saw the initial reviews and ratings coming in I decided to hold off, so thanks for your considered review. If I am at a loose end next week I might go see it as it looks as though it won’t be too bad, even if there are a few flaws.

    Reply
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  3. Rajeev Gaursingh

    Hi Kathy, I always look forward for your review first before going for the movie since your review is never biased and always balanced. I would definitely go to watch Phantom since my few very good friends are part of it including Mohammed. Zeeshan Ayyub.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Rajeev! Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Rajesh Tailang add a lot of class to the movie as a pair of RAW agents. I’m always happy when they show up on screen.

      Reply
  4. PI

    Balanced article. Thanks for writing it. I was initially discouraged by the 4.5 imdb rating but when I read the reviews i realized people aren’t being fair. Few people gave 1 star to the movie just because they felt it was anti-pakistani movie. That’s when I knew rating is not fair and i went to see the movie. Its not a perfect movie but its not as bad as people have portrayed it. It is based on some facts but at the end of day its a fiction, action thriller movie.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, PI. Director Kabir Khan is pretty careful to lay blame at the feet of terrorists and politicians, portraying ordinary citizens of Pakistan as folks just trying to make a living, who also suffer violence at the hands of extremists.

      Reply
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  7. Paul Smithson

    I ended up going to see it this evening Kathy and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I was expecting it to be very mediocre, as the reviews on IMDB had been so bad, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. It was like an extended version of the BBC series Spooks, which I used to enjoy, so it was right up my street.

    It seems all the 1-star reviews on IMDB are Pakistanis who are somehow thinking this is some kind of Indian propaganda movie, but to me it just came across as an anti-terrorist film, and definitely not anti Pakistan. I think maybe some of those giving it 1-star on IMDB haven’t actually seen the film.

    You mention that it is is far-fetched it parts, which it probably is, but it is no more far-fetched than ever Bond or Mission Impossible movie.

    I suppose I had the benefit Kathy of having seriously low expectations, so when it was way better than what I was expecting I probably liked it a lot more than I would have done had I just gone in with no preconceived ideas.

    Thanks for encouraging me to check it out. I’m glad you did.

    As for your 2.5 out of 4.0 I reckon that is about right, but if I was in a good mood – which I am – I might even nudge that 2.5 in the direction of a 3.0.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Glad you had fun, Paul! 2.5 is my minimum threshold where I don’t feel like I wasted my time or money. It doesn’t have to be amazing, but it’s entertaining or novel. I’m glad you thought I hit the mark!

      Reply
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  11. Nav

    Kathy, a question that befuddled me after watching it.
    Why kabir khan cast Katrina? She is a total misfit and has extremely limited (in fact no) acting ability. Saif’s acting was also patchy.

    Reply
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