Saturday, March 2, 2013

Movie Review: CRIMSON TIDE (1995)

Crimson Tide 1995 Denzel Washington Gene Hackman


Review by Gabriel

Review Score: 90% (Excellent)
Director: Tony Scott
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Action.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Matt Craven.
Runtime: 116 min / 123 min (Ext.)
Rating: R, for strong language.
There are too few good submarine movies. The old ones were in the sweet old Second World War heroic tradition, very clean and neat. Then, in the ’80s, Wolfgang Petersen brought us "Das Boot". That’s enough to forgive him about "Troy". "Das Boot" is a classic war film, brutal and realistic, both a tribute to the young sailors who fought in the war and an unique work of suspense. No submarine related film has ever come close to equaling Petersen’s epic. But in 1995, "Crimson Tide" came very, very close.

Gene Hackman Crimson TideProducer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott team up once again after "Top Gun" and "Days of Thunder", with much better results. The name of the submarine is the "Alabama" and it has nuclear capabilities. Its captain is Ramsey (Gene Hackman) and his second in command is Hunter (Denzel Washington). In Russia, rebel forces led by the extremist leader Radchenko, have taken hold of the country’s nuclear arsenal and they only need to decrypt the launch codes to be able to use them agains the US and thus start a Third World War. The Alabama is sent in to prepare to launch nuclear missles before the russians do, but the war brewing at the surface will explode on the command deck of the US nuclear submarine. Ramsey and Hunter are complete opposites in terms of opinion. Ramsey is the hardened commander with 25 years of experiente both in war and peace, and believes in harsh discipline, as per example when a fire explodes in the kitchen, he immediately begins a drill, to keep the sailors on their toes he says, but Hunter disagrees, to which Ramsey harshly replies : "We’re here to preserve democracy, not practice it." Hunter is a young commander, with no actual combat experience. He’s smart and cares about his men, he knows how to be strict and popular at the same time, and does not share Ramsey’s gung-ho attitude. His opinion about the nuclear war can be summed up by the following line : "In the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself."

After a russian submarine attacks them and cripples their radio capabilities, they receive an incomplete message which could mean that either they should launch their nuclear weapons, or abort their mission. Ramsey thinks they should strike while Hunter thinks they should wait for the radio to be repaired so they can receive the full orders. Since the situation between the two has grown tense, a simple exchange of arguments turns into all-out war, splitting the submarine into two sides fighting each other for control of the nuclear weapon, with the fate of humanity at stake.

Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman"Crimson Tide" is probably Tony Scott’s finest film, one of the rare cases where his style doesn’t get in the way of the film, nor does it try to elevate the material. It’s just there to support it. The hyperactive editing, richly detailed frames, aggresive soundtrack, they are all there, but they are the most important element of the film. What matters now are the surprising script and the heavy suspense. Yes, it does contain the usual sub cliches, like for example when the captain is forced to seal a compartment with men still inside or when they are sinking helplessly to a critical depth, only to fix the engines at the last moment and rise to safety. But, except for those, the film doesn’t betray expectations, delivering a tense struggle between two sub commanders who are both right, and both wrong. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman are extraordinary actors who can both add layers of quite detail to their characters, and explode with searing energy at the right moments, and the script does offer them some very nice scenes together. For example : a surreal dialogue about horse breeds during the very tense finale.

Quentin Tarantino is said to have been called in to rewrite the dialogue so it would be more dynamic. And indeed, that previous scene example sounds just like something Tarantino would do ( there are also a lot of references to comic books and Star Trek ). The supporting characters are pretty well written into the story also by means of dialogue, avoiding to become stereotypes. The atmosphere of the submarine is also very immersive in the "Das Boot" tradition, with the cameras rushing through the tight corridors, the lighting creating a dark electronically lit environment, and the cinematography and sets creating the claustrophobic feeling that adds to the suspense. Extrme close-ups of sweaty faces lit up by the red or green coloured screens, crew members shouting through the radio, contrary to navy discipline, and the adrenaling pumping score by Hans Zimmer, add to the crazyness in typical Scott/Bruckheimer fashion, a trend that seems to carry on even to this day.

The film’s biggest asset is the fact that it’s more than an action film. It brings an interesting perspective to nuclear wars and the ridiculously huge responsibilities of a submarine commander and what can happen when the chain of command breaks down in a critical moment. In fact, since 1996, the executive decision of releasing a nuclear weapon is reserved strictly for the president of the United States of America. They must have seen this movie too.



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