Director Tony Scott’s sizzling 1995 action thriller Crimson Tide is the world’s first post-Glasnost movie. It takes us, via Scott’s own zap-up-the-Russkies pic Top Gun (1986), right back to the Cuba missile crisis films of the 60s, especially Dr Strangelove and Fail Safe.
I mention these last two films because Crimson Tide does too. At least probably not in the original script, but certainly in the one you’ll see in the cinema, because Tony Scott got his old mate Quentin Tarantino, author of his True Romance movie, to overhaul Crimson Tide‘s screenplay. It is uncredited on screen, though featuring heavily in the adverts. And you’ll sure know old Quentin’s new dialogue when you hear it.
There’s some chat about the true and false Silver Racer comic character, for example, and a really postmodern exchange about previous submarine flicks and who was in them. Just so you’ll be one up one your friends, Curt Jurgens plays the German sub commander in the Mitchum pic.
This Tarantino dialogue, while certainly, er, a talking point, is not the point. For Crimson Tide is a really old-fashioned all-stops-out, full-speed-ahead action adventure, headlining a high-testosterone clash between two of Hollywood’s best 90s star actors.
Gene Hackman stars as Captain Frank Ramsey, the old, cynical, war-weary skipper of an American nuclear submarine, the Alabama, and Denzel Washington plays Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter, his new, youngish, idealistic, leftward leaning executive officer. (That’s XO in the classified submarine technology brochure handed out to the press by the film company, and I hope you get one too, as how else would you know “We have the back up” means “Rig the ship for ultra quiet”?).
The plot’s as old as the Hollywood hills and then some. After Russian rebels seize control of a nuclear missile base (stop me if you’ve heard this before), the USS Alabama patrolling Soviet waters is given an order to launch its nuclear missiles, but Denzel Washington challenges the instruction’s validity and starts a mutiny.
Scott films at a rattling pace with one eye on realism and the other on pop-video visual pyrotechnics. This is a terrifically exciting movie, even without the star duo, who lift it high with their effortlessly polished, charismatic acting into the big drama league.
Although it is billed as a thinking person’s adventure, it’s probably best not to think about it at all, since its politics and racial attitudes are as scary as they are ambiguous. Hackman says his character ‘would be construed as a good man in many people’s eyes’ and this is the naval captain whose finger is on the button marked ‘five billion die’. Great Scott!
All looking incredibly young, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Danny Nucci, Lillo Brancato and George Dzundza are among the great cast. It is Ryan Phillippe’s feature film debut.
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© Derek Winnert 2014 Classic Movie Review 755
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