At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Hunt for Red October “90”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Hunt for Red October “90”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Spy Thriller/Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Joss Ackland, Tim Curry, Peter Firth, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Jordan, Sam Neill, Stellan Skarsgård, Fred Dalton Thompson, Courtney B. Vance, Tomas Arana, Timothy Carhart, Daniel Davis, Anatoly Davydov, Michael Welden, Rick Ducommun, Larry Ferguson, Ronald Guttman, Boris Lee Krutonog, Christopher Janczar, Anthony Peck, Ned Vaughn, Gates McFadden/Runtime: 135 minutes

As I can recall dear reader, there was a review I wrote at one time or another where I pointed out the individual that many consider the definitive author for a variety of respective genres of literature. Well for the sake of this review, and because I frankly do not recall my exact words that I wrote (age gets the better of us all in one way or another I guess) for that review I shall try to put a distinct spin on it here. Please know though that if I do wind up plagiarizing myself that I am perfectly willing to settle with myself out of court for this truly “grievous injury to my writing ability”. With that being said, and all jokes aside, I think it can be said with a fair amount of certainty that when you really stop to think about it (should you take the time to do so), there may be many authors who all write in the same genre, but only a handful really do manage to become the (or close to it) definitive author for that respective genre. In other words: if you want a cheesy and over the top romance novel that you could find being sold at airport stores nationwide then Mary Sue might not be your top pick, but Danielle Steele definitely might come to mind. Also, if you’re the kind of person who loves a good scare you might not read Tim Benning, but you sure as heck know the name of one Stephen King (or Dean Koontz; an argument could be made for both). Likewise, if you want a chilly and frighteningly realistic sci-fi saga you don’t pick up George Masters, but you definitely would love the works of Michael Crichton (and not just because of a certain film involving a theme park full of resurrected dinosaurs). Lastly, if you are someone who loves to read nail-biting and incredibly detailed military/spy thrillers you aren’t likely to read the works of Benjamin Porterhouse, but you will without a doubt know the name Tom Clancy. Indeed here is a man who, during his career, gave audiences not only a collection of truly electrifying reads that introduced people to an exciting new hero or 2 in the forms of Jack Ryan and John Clark respectively, but also brought to us some absolutely enjoyable video game series (looking at you Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and The Division) and even some dynamite movie adaptations of his literary works as well. It is in regard to that last category incidentally that we now come to a movie from 1990, and the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, known as The Hunt for Red October. A movie that not only gave the world another brilliant action thriller from director John McTiernan, but also easily one of the 5 best performances that Sean Connery (outside of his tenure as a certain British superspy) and 24/7 dodger of controversy Alec Baldwin have ever given audiences. Indeed it might have some miniscule issues here and there, but with the aid of phenomenal work on both sides of the camera The Hunt for Red October is definitely one seaworthy adaptation that fires on all cylinders and then some in the best way possible.

The plot is as follows: Based on the novel of the same name, The Hunt for Red October gets its thrilling narrative underway by taking us back in time to November 1984. A time in world history where, despite advances made by both sides to cast it aside, the Cold War was still very much in full swing between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is in this charged political atmosphere where we soon witness as a Soviet submarine captain of some esteem and renown by the name of Marko Ramius is given command of the newest submarine in the Soviet fleet known as the Red October. A submarine that, among other things worth knowing about it, is equipped with something known as a caterpillar drive which, when in operation, gives the sub the ability to be undetectable by enemy sonar. Yet despite being assigned by his superiors to engage in a series of drills with a fellow submarine known as the V. K. Konovalov which, for what it’s worth, is under the command of a former student of Ramius’ by the name of Tupolev, it soon becomes clear that Ramius might have something else up his sleeve instead. It is at this point in our story where we are taken to jolly ol’ London and introduced to a young man by the name of Jack Ryan. A young man who, besides being a former Marine, also happens to be in the employ of the CIA as an analyst. The reason that Ryan is involved is because not only has America by this point in our story learned of the Red October, but (being that the Cold War is still very much a thing) U.S. government officials would love to know what degree of threat the vessel should be viewed as. Suffice it to say that it should come as no surprise then to discover that, upon being notified that the majority of the Soviet naval forces have been dispatched to both locate and sink the Red October, their first thought is that Ramius has gone completely off the reservation so to speak and is engaged in the act of a rogue nuclear attack on the East Coast of the United States. Surprisingly though, that isn’t the conclusion of our intrepid hero who we soon witness comes up with a more incredible and potentially so crazy it just might be true kind of theory. That being that Ramius, one of the most highly decorated and revered officers in the Soviet Navy, actually plans to defect to the United States. Yet, despite being dismissed by the majority of the higher-ups, we soon watch as Ryan is given no less than three days by the White House’s National Security Advisor to prove his theory with one distinct caveat. That being that, should he fail to do so or run out of time, the U.S. Navy will have no choice but to take down the Red October. Thus, with both sides in a state of heightened alert and the clock ticking, can Ryan find Ramius and prove his theory is correct or is this one situation that’s about to blow up in his face? That I shall let you discover for yourself…..

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera on this particular cinematic outing is absolutely incredible in the best way possible. This starts with the work done at the helm by John McTiernan and, as shown by his work on the first and third Die Hard plus the original Predator, he does a brilliant job here as well. Indeed not only does McTiernan do a phenomenal job of keeping the film moving at a pace that is swift yet methodical enough to ensure we get a good grasp on both characters and plot, but also at ensuring that the tension and suspense on display is kept at a level that is consistently able to leave you on the edge of your seat whilst also not being too over-bearing that we aren’t able to get in a few moments of genuine levity such as one between Neill and Connery that is delightfully subtle and low-key in terms of the warmth and humanity being shared between the two men. On top of that, we see that McTiernan’s gift for bringing a wonderful eye for detail is able to ensure that this story, however incredible it may seem at times, is also grounded in a wonderful degree of authenticity and realism. This is especially seen in such examples as both the various military attire being worn, but also in the terrific work done on the various set designs for the offices and other facilities that we travel to while the film is land based, the one or two battle ships we travel to with Ryan, and especially the interiors of the two submarines that we spend a significant chunk of the movie in which look and feel like actual military vessels rather than sets for a movie. Above all though, there is perhaps one thing McTiernan does here which I think has gone vastly under noticed. That being how he handles the dialogue being spoken by the cast members playing the Russians aboard the Red October. Now at first yes they do speak in Russian, but for some reason once certain things occur at two distinct points in the movie they immediately transition over to English. In the opinion of this review however, I don’t think this is just because they didn’t want the audience to have to read subtitles for the rest of the movie. Rather, I think by doing so McTiernan is now, in an incredibly subtle yet effective manner, removing any initial emotional barriers we may have had towards them and instead is permitting us to empathize with them as people. Lastly, I would also like to take the time to praise the work done in the cinematography department by Jan de Bont (yes the same guy who directed Twister). Indeed de Bont does a brilliant job here of not only filming in such a way that you feel that you are with these characters wherever they go, but he also induces a sense of claustrophobia as well which aids in the overall level of tension and suspense present in the film. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in wonderful work from the editing department, a breathtakingly beautiful musical accompaniment from Basil Poledouris, and an incredibly penned screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart which, although it trims a fair bit from the source material, actually maintains the suspense of the novel incredibly well,  there might be a few hiccups here and there, but overall the work done by the various departments behind the camera definitely do their part and then some in bringing this truly thrilling story as vividly to life as it ultimately is able to be.

Besides the truly impeccable work done behind the camera, this seafaring cinematic outing is also one that is genuinely blessed with having equally as stellar work done by a nothing short of brilliantly chosen and absolutely stacked roster of talent in front of the camera as well. Without a doubt in my mind dear reader, this starts with none other than screen legend Sean Connery and, as stated in my first paragraph, I honestly think this is one of the five best (non-007; have to keep that in mind) performances that he ever blessed audiences with during his career. Indeed as Ramius, Connery does a masterful job at giving us an individual who is highly respected yet very much an enigma to both his crew and those pursuing him only to, as the film goes on, really peel back the layers a bit and allow the audience to really learn a fair bit more about him to the extent that we find ourselves cheering him on as much as, if not slightly more so, than the character of Jack Ryan. Suffice it to say that it’s a splendid performance and one that only someone of Connery’s caliber could have brought to life this vividly.    Alongside Connery, this slice of cinema also gives audiences a performance from Alec Baldwin that is also one of HIS 5 best as well. Indeed as the first portrayer of Jack Ryan, we see that Baldwin does a great job at giving us a guy who is charming, brilliant, and likable and finds himself having to utilize these talents while taking part in this incredible mission that he is never quite sure he’s the right man to pull off due to being, in his own words, “just an analyst”. Now backing up the wonderful work done by Connery and Baldwin in this is a collection of support performances by an incredible support cast. Without a doubt, this starts with Scott Glenn who is top-tier as the Captain of the USS Dallas Bart Mancuso. Indeed Glenn has always been an underrated talent and here he does a great job at taking a cue from an actual submarine captain and giving us a character who is authoritative and a bit on the gruff side yet also just and willing to listen to reason as well. Lastly, I would definitely be amiss if I didn’t take some time in this section to praise the work done by the always enjoyable Sam Neill as Ramius’ Executive Officer (or 2nd in command if you prefer) Vasily Borodin. Indeed Neill has always been a class act and here we see him give a performance that is a wonderful blend of relatable, slightly humorous, and loyal to his captain to say nothing of their mission whilst also giving him a few moments here and there where it does seem like he does appear to have a tinge of reservations in regard to certain choices that Ramius makes throughout the course of the film. That and without going into spoilers his final scene in this film is definitely the kind that makes grown men (myself maybe being included) capable of shedding a tear. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in solid support efforts from (brace yourselves) Courtney B. Vance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Timothy Carhart, a delightfully menacing yet underutilized Stellan Skarsgård, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Jordan, the legendary James Earl Jones, a brief yet integral role from Peter Firth, Joss Ackland, and none other than the OG Dr. Frank ‘n Furter himself aka Tim Curry (!) who manages to be surprisingly good here as the Red October’s Medical Officer among others it’s clear that everyone involved here knew what was being asked of them and, no matter how big or small their amount of screentime may be, they all manage to give truly exceptional performances as a result.

All in all and at the end of the day is The Hunt for Red October a perfect slice of cinema? Honestly no though truth be told I think the submarine film that would come the closest to that would have to be 1981’s Das Boot or 1958’s Run Silent, Run Deep to name but a few entries that come to mind respectively. At the same time however, is this the worst movie set onboard a submarine since 2009’s Silent Venom or Snakes on a Sub as it should have been called? Thankfully, I can confirm that most assuredly is not the case either which truthfully is a relief because that is one movie that should have been torpedoed before it ever left the planning stages. All sarcastic but true jokes aside dear reader, I must admit that I dig the heck out of The Hunt for Red October. Not just because this was actually the first submarine movie I ever saw (thanks to whoever put this in the All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 VHS case in the kid’s hospital), but because this movie alongside fellow entries U-571 and Crimson Tide is a submarine thriller that, no matter how much time can come and go between viewing them, I will always be in the mood to sit and revisit no matter what. Suffice it to say that it might not be a flawless film in every way, but with impeccable work done behind the camera and the phenomenal efforts of a top-tier and extremely well-chosen cast of players in front of the camera The Hunt for Red October is more than just a fantastic entry in its respective genre of movie magic. Rather, it is also a genuinely great movie through and through to say nothing of one of the better films that the early 90s sought fit to give us as movie goers. In fact, I think the argument could be made that this slice of cinema is quite the sub-optimal viewing experience. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Hunt for Red October “90” a solid 4 out of 5.