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Set in 1955, the film takes place almost exclusively aboard a US Coast Guard lightship, an anchored vessel that functions in much the same way as a lighthouse, keeping other ships from crashing into the rocky Virginia shore. The lightship is captained by Brandauer, a German-born American
citizen who is haunted by his naval past. During WWII, while commanding a destroyer, Miller chose to go after an enemy U-boat rather than pick up victims from the sea. He was court-martialed, but although acquitted is tormented by his conscience. Living on the lightship with his delinquent teenage
son Lyndon and a small crew, Miller spots a stranded speedboat. He brings the boaters aboard--the frightfully effete and evil Duvall and two leather-clad brothers, Forsythe and Howard. An odd trio of unnaturally close fugitives, the men demand that Miller deliver them to their chosen destination.
Miller, however, cannot desert the Virginia coast. Director Skolimowski has fashioned an interesting although flawed picture. The screenplay lacks coherence, which necessitated the postproduction addition of narration by Lyndon, but the performances more than make up for it.