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A Glimpse of Hell on DVD

A Glimpse of Hell on DVD

James Caan and Robert Sean Leonard star in a US Navy story based on a real and tragic event.

In 1989, Lt. Dan Meyer (Leonard) is assigned to Gun Turret 1 on board the fabled USS Iowa, a legendary but aged battleship. He's a "by the book" - though wet behind the ears - officer whose father was a legendary tar in his own right. But Meyer wants to make it on his own, which is why he finds himself on a battleship despite it not being the most logical path for his naval career.

Meyer soon discovers a ship that he feels (despite his relative inexperience) is ill-equipped for battle, where pop cans are used as patches and the powder for the gigantic 16 inch guns is nearly as old as the venerable ship herself. The men cope bravely and gamely, complaining that the resources they need are being spent on high tech weapons such as cruise missiles, while doing their best to compete with the new technology in order to prove that their aging weaponry is still relevant for modern warfare.

Things go along reasonably well until one day during a live fire exercise when an apparent accident in another turret blows it up and kills 47 sailors in the process. This leads to the inevitable investigation by the brass.

Much to Meyer's chagrin, however, the investigation takes an ugly and, to him, unwarranted turn and the official fingers begin pointing not at accident or error but at a single crewman who died in the explosion and fire and therefore isn't around to defend himself. Using trumped up evidence and witness intimidation, the Naval investigators fashion what Meyer believes is a whitewash aimed at protecting the service, the ship, and its captain at the expense of the truth.

Meyer is forced to choose between his captain (Caan) and his conscience, leading to the major conflict in the film. It's the Little Guy against The System, and guess which side the filmmakers take. The Little Guy, of course, who's out to see justice done regardless of the political fallout.

We have no idea how much truth and how much fiction there is in this version of the story, though the filmmakers do attempt to show their lilywhite hands in the movie's epilog. Of course, if the story's tack is true then Meyer was right.

Leonard is very good in his role as the idealistic sailor, but it's Caan who really turns in the best performance. He's a career tar nearing retirement and he knows on what side his toast is buttered. He makes only one demand: loyalty, and his loyalty is to the service.

This is a pretty engrossing movie and seems to offer a fascinating look at the inner operations of a battleship, something most people will never have seen before. The production values are very good and even though what's left of the Canadian Navy stands in for the USS Iowa, it's a very interesting look at the men and equipment of such a ship.

The DVD is pretty good, with an excellent anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) overall. The only real problem (besides some authentic Navy footage that was obviously not shot by the same crew) was digital artifacts that seemed to appear every time the shot cut to another. They aren't really obtrusive, but over time you notice them and then it's hard not to notice them when they keep appearing.

The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and although there isn't a lot of surround the overall quality is very good as well.

Extras? There are a couple of "Fox Flix" trailers, but other than that there's only the usual language and chapter choices.

A Glimpse of Hell, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
85 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Robert Sean Leonard, James Caan, Daniel Roebuck, Jamie Harrold
Produced by Mitch Engel
Written by David Freed, Directed by Mikael Salomon


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Updated May 13, 2006