Made in 1995 Crimson Tide stars two titans of cinema, Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. It also stars Viggo Mortensen (in his pre-Lord of the Rings days), and James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano. The film shares some similarities with a real life incident that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis but changes the action from a Soviet submarine to a U.S one.
Now you may be wondering why this week I have chosen to write a review about a film from 1995 and not surprisingly I am going to tell you in the following review, however first let me give you the low down on what is going on.
In a post-Soviet Russia a civil war erupts with many aspects of the military are joining an ultranationalist named Vladimir Radchenko (Daniel von Bargen). The world is watching in fear as his forces capture a nuclear missile instillation. He threatens that if the United States attempts to confront him, then he will launch nuclear weapons against the US. He has also captured a submarine base and sent out submarines to attack any US ones that venture into Russian waters.
Meanwhile Frank Ramey (Hackman), the captain of the USS Alabama, an Ohio-class submarine is interviewing candidates for the position of Executive Officer. Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Washington) a man with an extensive education in military history and tactics seems to be the perfect man for the job, however, he lacks any actual combat experience.
The Alabama is sent on its patrol route, with orders to launch its nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike if the rebel nuclear weapons are being fuelled in preparation for launch.
Several days into the mission it becomes clear that Ramsey and Hunter have different approaches to command and maintaining control on the sub. Hunter suggests giving the men a pat on the back because tensions are high onboard, however, Ramsey instead gives the men a “kick up the ass” and informs them that they have jobs to do and basically to suck it up and get on with their jobs.
During their patrol the Alabama receives order to launch its missiles against Russia as the rebel missiles are being fuelled and within an hour they will be ready to launch. The crew prepare to fire ten of their own nuclear weapons when a second message starts to come through; however, the Alabama is attacked by an Akula-class submarine loyal to Radchenko cutting off the transmission and damaging communications before the whole message is received.
Ramsey is resolved to following the first set of orders, but Hunter refuses to give his support to the order as they have no idea what the second message is, and without communications they cannot risk launching their missiles. Tensions between the officers result in a mutiny as the crew struggle to follow the conflicting officers both of whom believe that they are in the right...
Straight off the bat the setting of the submarine is absolutely perfect for creating tension, the crew are trapped in a metal tube far below the surface of the waves, without communications and time running out. If the Alabama don’t launch its missiles soon then the rebels may have fired theirs by the time the US missiles reach their targets.
Ramsey is a seasoned officer and obviously feels threatened by Hunter. Hackman portrays the captain as been totally convinced in his orders and following them to the letter. He has the experience that Hunter lacks. Hunter’s by-the-book bounces perfectly off the hardened captain, who is obviously not used to anyone questioning his decisions onboard his ship. In between the crew, some loyal to Ramsey, and others following navy regulations struggle inside the claustrophobic atmosphere of the sub. The situation is made worse by the damaged communications and the presence of an enemy sub hunting them.
Director Tony Scott keeps the tension at breaking point. The Russians are fuelling their missiles and if the Alabama doesn’t act fast then it might be too late. The crippled submarine preparing to launch nuclear weapons, without communications, and the crew at each other’s throats is one of the most terrifying prospects imaginable.
The supporting cast which includes James Gandolfini and Viggo Mortensen are a joy to watch. Especially as those loyal to the captain disregard the chain of command, and Ramsey’s own unstable behaviour, to take the ship from Hunter whom they consider being too soft to launch the nuclear weapons.
The cast of any film does not really get any bigger. Two giants of cinema, and Academy Award Winners Hackman and Washington work effortlessly together to create one of the best films in years, the setting may be fictional, but does echo of the Cuban Missile Crisis leading to its realism.
The film may be a little on the old side now but it is unparallel for creating a tense, claustrophobic action film, if it is something that I think is worth talking about even after more than two decades then it definitely warrants a Thumbs Up.
9/10 - Crimson Tide is an excellent and tense drama with the portals of clashing personalities played by the brilliant Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.