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A Glimpse of Hell

On April 19, 1989, the battleship USS Iowa suffered a massive explosion in one of its 16-inch gun turrets, killing 47 sailors. It was a headline-making event, but the story lingered in the press for two more years, thanks in part to a U.S. Navy investigation that concluded that one seaman, Clayton Hartwig, purposely sabotaged Turret Two in response to a homosexual affair gone awry. Hartwig died in the disaster, and only after intense scrutiny did the Navy alter its conclusions, eventually claiming that the cause of the explosion could not be determined. Among the journalists who pursued the USS Iowa story was Charles Thompson, a 60 Minutes producer who oversaw two news features on the event and also wrote the nonfiction investigation A Glimpse of Hell. The 2001 TV movie of the same name covers much of the same ground as Thompson's book, but in dramatic fashion. Robert Sean Leonard stars as Lt. Dan Meyer, a young officer whose father is a retired submarine captain, but who chooses to serve on a battleship, which he regards as "the point of the sword" of all naval operations. Meyer is given command of the Iowa's Turret Two, where he soon learns that battleships are often last in line for new resources, and basic materials often take second place to new computers and technical gear. Concerned that the 16-inch guns are poorly maintained, he submits a written report on the matter. But in order to succeed as an officer he must show results, leading him to take part in research attempts to set new artillery records. It is after one of these attempts results in the destruction of Turret Two that Lt. Meyer believes conditions and resources require immediate investigation — a position that puts him at odds with the boat's skipper, Capt. Fred Moosally (James Caan), an old sea dog who knows the value of covering his naval brass. As a television production and not a theatrical film, A Glimpse of Hell is a perfectly fine military drama, not as tense perhaps as A Few Good Men, but efficient and well performed. Robert Sean Leonard is an agreeable actor in his role as the young, idealistic Lt. Meyer, who must weigh his duty as a naval officer with his ingrained instincts to pursue the truth, even if it places his higher-ups in a poor light. The supporting cast is solid, and it's hard not to like James Caan in most roles. Here, as a hard-assed CO who places loyalty above all other virtues, he makes the most of every scene. A smart little film, and one that will be of special interest to anyone with a connection to the U.S. Navy's culture and history. Fox's DVD release of A Glimpse of Hell features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and DD 5.1 audio. Trailers for four other Fox films. Keep-case.

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