Starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman
Directed by Tony Scott
In the wake (pardon the pun) of the critical and box office success of "The Hunt for Red October", it seemed that submarine films might be making a comeback. So we come to "Crimson Tide", a big-budget, star-powered, "event movie" extravaganza. Denzel Washington and the Great Gene Hackman - what could possibly go wrong? Well, sadly, a heck of a lot. The plot, for what of it there is, kicks off with a new Executive Officer (XO - Washington) joining the Nuclear Submarine USS Alabama under Captain Ramsey (Hackman) as they attempt to protect the Free World from the threat of Russian (Soviet?) militant Radichenko, who has seized a few nuclear missile bases and a few submarines to boot. Who in Hollywood doesn't love a Russian militant?
Alabama, obviously, sails to intercept, when the situation in Russia escalates (how, you ask? Madman with control of nukes - fine, Madman threatening to use them, that's a bit of a problem.) There follows a completely unconvincing, not to mention uninvolving scenario, in which a crucial drill occurs at the exact moment that three crewmembers are killed in a fire below decks. XO and Captain clash in private about the appropriate action of holding a drill when the fire was breaking out. Then, an order is received, seemingly ordering the Alabama to launch on the rebel Russian's base - but the message is incomplete, as the antenna is busted. There is some pointless infighting amongst the crewmembers - allegedly script-doctored by a certain Q. Tarantino (an idea borne out by jarring comic-book and Star Trek references) - and all hell apparently breaks loose on the finest boat in the fleet.
After a tedious standoff between Hackman and Washington's characters. One is arrested and confined to quarters, then half of the crew have a change of mind, and the other is. The launch order, it seems, is incomplete, so the two men responsible for a launch cannot agree. There is only one way this is going to turn out. To ratchet up the melodrama a notch, the heroes' sub is in danger of being attacked by one of the hi-jacked "enemy" subs too... just what you don't need when you're having a barney with your most trusted subordinate. Phew, though! It was all a false alarm! The baddies boat is easily dispatched, the antenna is repaired, and it turns out that the order to initiate Armageddon has been withdrawn.
Tony Scott, RIP, was an odd character. At once capable of turning out excellent, off-beat comic thrillers ("True Romance", "Enemy of the State"), down-the-line, ball busting actioners ("Unstoppable", "Spy Game") utter bilge ("Beverley Hills Cop 2", "Domino") and those films that simply defied belief or classification ("Top Gun", "Deja Vu" - the latter of which I really like, despite its time-travel inconsistencies!) Although I don't think he made anything earth-shattering or revolutionary, I certainly enjoyed a number of his movies (even "Man on Fire"). His "G.I. Jane" is a guilty pleasure... oh, hang on, that was Ridley, doing a Tony impersonation. Certainly he waved a flag for a certain style of easy-on-the-eye, glossy, Hollywood thriller, which paved the way for a host of Bruckheimer yes men such as Simon West and - alas for the future of cinema - Michael Bay. He may have employed a near-criminal use of lens filters. Nevertheless I can honestly say he'll be missed.
On a recent episode of the excellent The Film Talk podcast (of which no words can speak highly enough), co-host Gareth Higgins, a critic for whom I have a lot of time, commented that when it comes to opinions on film, something along the lines of "tell me what you don't like, and I'll respect what you do like". I understand completely what he's saying, So far for this blog I've chosen only films for which I have an affection. But it could be time to heed the Doctor's advice, and talk about a film which I think is really terrible. "Crimson Tide" is really terrible; and, given the pedigree of those employed, and the dream set-up, it's bitterly disappointing. The main problem is that we are clearly supposed to root for the idealistic Hunter (Washington) rather than the dyed-in-the-wool Ramsey (Hackman). In the film, Ramsey has a clear order, and is tasked, and determined, to carry it out. This seems honourable - ours is not to reason why, etc. Hunter has a random hunch, and generates chaos to see his will done. Don't get me wrong, Denzel is THE MAN, a fantastic actor and mesmeric screen presence, but in this film he didn't win my sympathy at all. I thought Ramsey was right all along and that orders should have been followed. If I can't sympathise with the character I'm supposed to, I can't get into the movie as much as I should... It's possibly worth a look if it comes on television late one night, but really not worth actively seeking out.
See instead (borrowed feature!): "The Hunt for Red October", "K19: The Widowmaker", "Phantom")