The Rock (1996)
The Rock (1996)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 16 min.

Release Date: June 7th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michael Bay Actors: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, John Spencer, David Morse, William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, Vanessa Marcil, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Bokeem Woodbine, Claire Forlani




ichael Bay’s films have become known for their over-the-top action, show-stopping stunts, first-rate special effects, and overall big-budget blockbuster feel. “The Rock” (debuting after “Bad Boys” and before “The Island”) helped create that impression, being one of his more visually spectacular films, despite the overly corny dialogue and Nicolas Cage’s insincere performance. The inclusion of veteran actors Sean Connery and Ed Harris, and competent action sequences allow “The Rock” to be routinely entertaining, while also serving as an influential framework for future, high-octane action extravaganzas. When half the city is in ruins (gratuitously, of course) after the first few minutes of the film, it’s evident that Michael Bay had something to do with the picture.

Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) breaks into a weapons facility to steal VX gas, an incredibly deadly nerve agent (true to life but given exaggerated qualities), which he intends to discharge via rockets. Setting up an elaborate scheme to gain the attention of the United States government, Hummel takes over Alcatraz prison – full of tourist hostages – and issues a 40-hours-to-comply ultimatum. What he seeks is recognition and fairness for the soldiers who fought alongside him in Desert Storm, only to be abandoned by military cover-ups and politics – along with a hefty sum of money and an escape vehicle.

The officials won’t allow such a terrorist threat, so prisoner John Mason (Sean Connery), a former SAS operative and escape artist who successfully broke out of Alcatraz, is recruited to aid a SEAL team with the objective of sneaking in and dispatching Hummel and his men. Bomb defusing expert and chemical weapons FBI agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) must also accompany the incursion, making sure the deadly gas is neutralized before it can be dispersed over San Francisco Bay. Sure enough, nothing goes according to plan, and Mason and Goodspeed are trapped in Alcatraz with nothing but their cunning, wits, sarcasm, and an unhinged, murderous renegade marine group masterminding the deaths of thousands.

Bay’s recognizable style of going way overboard to make each scene more intense and, hopefully, infinitely cooler, has the tendency to derail and ruin the moment. Extraneous slow-motion, car chases that don’t influence the plot, stunt sequences just for the sake of action, and dialogue that feels snatched right from the final moments between James Bond and an idiosyncratic thug are all signature elements that don’t always work. The camera also likes to dizzyingly rotate around the characters (further popularized by “The Matrix”), while generic patriotic conversations coupled with national security warnings frequently saturate conversations.

Cage may not have much to work with due to the generically macho script, but Connery and Harris are decent in just about anything, shaping their roles into something more memorable and quirky than basic heroes and villains. The background music is rousing (composed by Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith), there’s a mine cart chase sequence (a la “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), and an atropine injection to the heart (think “Pulp Fiction”) that would become one of the most iconic, suspenseful shots in the film. While the ending is much too goofy to match the rest of the production, “The Rock” succeeds at being a routinely thrilling actioner, keeping up the tenseness while effectively alternating the explosions and comedy banter between the leads – which is more than can be said about Bay’s following, more melodramatic, calamitous, world-crisis experiments (including “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”).

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10