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A "lightship" is precisely what you think it is: a ship that acts as a lighthouse. Perpetually anchored in one important spot, a lightship just sits there, manned by a skeleton crew, acting as a beacon to all the other (movable) ships at sea.
Such is the setting for Jerzy Skolimowski's 1985 film. A lightship overseen by Captain Miller, his glum son, and a small handful of crew members. Needless to say, it's a fairly uneventful gig, all things considered.
Uneventful until a trio of visitors arrive, stranded on the sea thanks to a broken-down vessel. So Capt. Miller invites the newcomers aboard his lightship.
A tip to all of you aspiring lightship captains out there: If Robert Duvall arrives on your ship sporting a bizarrely indecipherable accent and flanked by a pair of seriously unseemly assistants, your best bet is just to let 'em all drown. Because these are not nice guys.
And before you begin to mistake The Lightship for something similar to, say, Die Hard on an Immovable Lightship, make sure you're aware that this flick is not action-oriented, nor is it particularly thrilling or intense. For better or for worse, The Lightship is a quiet and ruminating little tale, one that's just as likely to fascinate you to death as it would bore you into oblivion.
Credit where due: Robert Duvall, as usual, delivers a performance that's effortlessly entertaining. Granted, Rob's doing something rather unique with this particular role, but it's good goofy fun nonetheless. (One wonders, however, if "goofy" is what Mr. Skolimowski was shooting for.) Also quite excellent is Klaus Maria Brandauer in the lead role, and you'll also find the supporting cast buoyed by the likes of William Forsythe and Arliss Howard -- but that's pretty much the long and the short of The Lightship's outstanding assets.
I realize that The Lightship is one of those "arthouse flicks" that's more interested in mood and subtext than it is flashy characters and action sequences, but much of the narrative is airy at best -- deadly dull at worst. And as far as the hostage / kidnapper material is concerned, very little of it is all that engaging. You'll find yourself forever wondering why the villains don't just leave and why the heroes don't just beat their visitors to death with a random oar.
Video: Widescreen anamorphic transfer, which does what it can to present this dark and muddled tale with as much clarity as possible. Not a bad transfer (it's a Paramount release), but certainly nothing worth calibrating your knobs over.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or DD 2.0; either way you're getting a fine, if not superlative, aural presentation.
Extras: Not a one.
Never even heard of The Lightship? Well, join the club ... and I've at least "heard of" just about every theatrical release of the past 30 years! Fans of the amazingly cool Robert Duvall might consider this flick a must-rent, just because Bob's so devilishly weird in this one. As for the movie itself, well, it's not really a bad flick -- it just tells a really simple story told in a really simple fashion ... and, unfortunately, it's actually quite dull for the most part.