The Lightship (1985)


(director: Jerzy Skolimowski; screenwriters: from the book “The Lightship” by Siegfried Lenz/David Taylor/William Mai; cinematographer: Charly Steinberger; editors: Scott Hancock/Barrie Vince; music: Stanley Myers; cast: Robert Duvall (Calvin Caspary), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Captain Miller), Tom Bower (Coop), Robert Costanzo (Stump), Badja Djola, William Forsythe (Gene), Arliss Howard (Eddie), Michael Lyndon (Alex), Tim Phillips (Thorne), Badja Djola (Nate); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Moritz Borman/Bill Benenson; Paramount; 1985)
It’s noted for the inventive performance of Robert Duvall.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on Siegfried Lenz’s sullen allegorical novella and is literately written by David Taylor and William Mai. Director Jerzy Skolimowski (“Moonlighting”/”Deep End”/”The Shout”) can’t get it to move as anything more than a B-film psychological thriller, as it gets moored in philosophical musings over freedom, the battle over good and evil, and the darkness surrounding humanity. Though Skolimowski tries through a claustrophobic setting, the suspense and the metaphysical undercurrent don’t seamlessly blend together even if it’s well-crafted and well-acted. It’s noted for the inventive performance of Robert Duvall, almost unrecognizable as a flamboyant effete dandy, dressed in a bow tie, a cream-colored suit and a Panama hat, who is well-mannered and articulate but is also a slimy vicious thug.

Captain Miller (Klaus Maria Brandauer) is the pacifist German-American captain of a rusting US Coast Guard lightship, anchored off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, in Cape Hatteras, a few years after WW II. The captain is haunted by the memory of leaving some fellow Americans to die at sea in World War II while he instead goes after a German U-boat. His rebellious 16-year-old son Alex (Michael Lyndon, Skolimowski’s real-life son), who despises dad, is picked up by the police and delivered to his pop, who takes him aboard the stationary vessel that serves as an offshore lighthouse (something no longer used, as it once was the practice to anchor such vessels in uncertain waters to warn other ships away from the danger points).

A motorboat fails at sea and the three on-the-run psychotic killer passengers, Calvin Caspary (Robert Duvall), Eddie Waxler (Arliss Howar) and, his moronic brother, Eugene Waxler (William Forsythe), come aboard to await repairs and then overtake the six men on the Coast Guard ship and hold them hostage as they hijack the boat and make new plans to meet their rendezvous escape boat. The captain opts to make sure his men are safe and complies with the thugs up to a point and it turns into a duel of wits between the two leaders, while Thorne (Tim Phillips) rallies the other vics to fight back. It results in a few deaths and many life lessons spouted.

The film is told from the POV of the Michael Lyndon character, who acts as narrator.