Genre: War Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Release Date: March 2nd, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: John McTiernan Actors: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Joss Ackland, Peter Firth, Tim Curry, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeffrey Jones
lick, intelligent, and action-packed, “The Hunt for Red October” rightly takes its place at the top of the list of greatest “guy movies” (in more than one sense, considering there are no female characters in the film past the opening credits). With enough of a corkscrew plot to keep anyone guessing and with plenty of edge-of-your-seat suspense, this high-stakes espionage thriller, famously based on the novel by Tom Clancy, never misses a beat. Stirring camaraderie, electrifying music, riveting political turmoil, looming sabotage, and nerve-wracking firefights make this contemporary classic the epitome of war game scenarios and an all around solid adventure film.
It is 1984, and the tension between the Soviets and the U.S. is at a high. Respected sailor Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) has just embarked on the maiden voyage of a new silent propulsion-outfitted Typhoon class submarine, named Red October. Joined by a faithful set of handpicked officers and a mistrustful crew, Ramius sets a course for U.S. waters with an unknown mission and distressing nuclear arms.
Analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is called in to identify spy photographs of the top secret Red October vessel and to determine the intent of the seemingly unstable USSR seaman at its helm. As the undercover giant slips past Navy boats undetected, the Soviet government asks for help to destroy the renegade sub. As the threat of war and nuclear disasters rapidly surface, Ryan must prove that Ramius’ intent is to defect and not to open fire on the legion of ships hunting for the rogue commander.
Despite the technical aspects of the naval chess game that compose wartime maneuvers, “The Hunt for Red October” thrives on wit and logic to propel the decisions of the characters, allowing for general audiences to follow the intricate storyline. In fact, those overly familiar with the Cold War or navy protocol might actually be disappointed with the cinematic details. The plot utilizes both complex battle tactics and plausible theories, attaining a reasonable balance to keep the audience always in the know. Even as sonar man Jones (Courtney B. Vance) aboard the U.S.S. Dallas, the crew of the Red October, and Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) at Central Intelligence all receive updates at different times, the audience is placed ahead of the confusion that plagues the warring fleets.
Perhaps the most unique and rarely used device in “The Hunt for Red October” is the method in which multiple languages are handled. Initially, Ramius and his crew speak in Russian, with standard subtitles appearing onscreen. But since nearly half of the film focuses on the Red October, it would be distracting to follow subtitles 50% of the time. So, during an early scene, the camera zooms in on the mouth of a Soviet Political Officer as he reads from a book. Mid-sentence, his Russian words switch to English – and from that point on, the entire Russian group speaks in English. Although a little jarring due to its unfamiliarity, this concept alleviates any audience consternation over excessive subtitles.
As Ramius’ unpredictable actions provoke uneasiness and paranoia aboard the submarine, the diplomatic mind games of a Russian ambassador play havoc on the crew of the Dallas, who must decide whether to follow Ryan’s unverifiable hunches or to destroy the enemy vessel on sight. Action film veteran John McTiernan excellently handles the anticipation and anxiety; a sweeping score by Basil Poledouris keeps up the intensity; and stunning cinematography by Jan De Bont helps “The Hunt for Red October” appeal even to viewers apprehensive about the wartime setting and military atmosphere. At its heart, it’s simply a competent thriller. The film would go on to win an Oscar, meet box office success, and pave the way for Harrison Ford to take over for Tom Clancy’s famous lead character in the sequels “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger.”
– Mike Massie