USS Indianapolis: Disaster at Philippine Sea depicts the fate of the titular ship, which in 1945 was sent on a secret mission without escort to ferry materials that would be used to put together the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. On their way home, a Japanese submarine spots them out on the high seas, and sinks the ship with a barrage of torpedoes. Captain McVay (Nicolas Cage) and his surviving crew are left stranded out in shark-infested waters, with just a handful of rafts and very limited supplies, hoping for a very slim chance of rescue.
The story of the Indianapolis is kind of fascinating, but the movie isn't content with just telling this tale of courage and survival. It also tells the story of best friends Bama and Mike (Matt Lanter and Adam Scott Miller), who are in love with the same girl. Amidst story of these men fighting for survival, these two deal with their competing drives, and try to find a ring that goes missing in the first act. There's also a pair of seamen down in the brig that learn to become friends as things go south. And there's an officer that isn't very well liked by the crew.
The movie tells all these stories, and it doesn't really all fit together. They feel like distractions from what is already a really compelling narrative. Here are a bunch of men who didn't even know what exactly their mission was, now fighting for their lives because of the incompetence of their superiors. It takes an hour for the movie to get to the actual attack, and it feels like all the setup doesn't really contribute much to the ultimate picture. It's really tough to care about the drama between Bama and Mike when there are much bigger things at stake.
When the film does finally get to the survival portion, it doesn't do a great job of telling that story either. It feels disjointed, the narrative jumping between too many characters and subplots. It can't seem to decide what story it ultimately wants to tell. The movie eventually becomes about McVay and the fallout from this disaster, but the film hardly invests in his personal story. He doesn't actually get that much screen time out on the water, the movie weirdly concerned with too many other things to really convey his personal journey.
The film is riddled with questionable directorial choices, like a scene late in the movie that has people tearing up over a flashback. It feels like we missed out on a dramatic monologue, the movie cutting ahead to the reaction without actually showing the emotional content. This is a weird choice, especially since the film has Nicholas Cage at its disposal. Cage can be a hit-and-miss performer, but he's certainly more capable of eliciting emotion than a flashback montage. There's a lot of meat inherent to this role, but the film doesn't seem to let Cage really bite into it.
USS Indianapolis: Disaster at Philippine Sea has a worthy enough goal. The men that went through this ordeal certainly deserve to have their story told, and the grave injustices that followed this disaster needed to be addressed. But the movie doesn't do a great job of doing any of that. It gets caught up in Hollywood nonsense, burdening this slice of history with extraneous subplots that take away from the immediacy of the main narrative. It feels like the story just gets away from this movie, the lack of focus causing everything to fall apart.