This week’s pick is the post Cold War thriller Crimson Tide which stars Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman as U.S. Submariners who clash over their orders to launch nuclear weapons in this Tony Scott action classic. Crimson Tide begins during a period of political unrest in post Soviet Russia when military forces crush a rebellion in neighboring Chechnya.
Violence begins to spread throughout other republics and ultra nationalists headed by a man named Radchenko criticizes American, British, and French involvement which cuts off aid to Russia as a protest of its hostilities towards its neighboring country. Radchenko’s forces seize a Russian ICBM missile complex and threaten to launch nuclear weapons if either the U.S. or its allies move in to stop him.
After several years of peace, the Cold War begins to heat up once again.
Denzel Washington plays Lt. Commander Ron Hunter who is assigned duty as the new executive officer on board the U.S.S. Alabama, a strategic missile sub that is to set sail on a patrol mission to launch a preemptive strike if Radchenko’s forces try to launch their missiles and begin World War III. Gene Hackman also stars as Captain Frank Ramsey, a veteran submariner whose methods and approach to submarine warfare differ greatly from that of his new XO.
Hunter is young bright, and idealistic. He has studied military tactics yet has no real combat experience to speak of. Captain Ramsey is one of the last submariners in the U.S. navy who has seen his fair share of combat.
When the Alabama sets sail, the first few days at sea consist of routine and even more routine. Tensions run high throughout the crew who begin to show signs of nervous stress. Hunter and Ramsey begin to learn more about each other and the men slowly begin to clash with one another as it becomes more apparent to the men and the rest of the crew that the crisis in Russia is escalating even further. Radchenko’s forces have gained access to the launch codes and are preparing to fuel missiles which threaten the U.S. and Japan.
An EAM (Emergency Action Message) is received by the Alabama, which orders the sub to begin a pre launch countdown to fire its weapons in just over an hour. The officers and crew are now convinced that this is the point of no return and that nuclear war is eminent.
A second message is partially received yet is broken off due to an attack by a Russian sub which is controlled by Radchenko’s forces. Hunter tries to convince the captain that it is premature to launch because they don’t have full orders and maybe the message fragment was ordering them to stand down. Ramsey tries to have the XO removed from his post because he refuses to follow the captain’s orders to concur with the launch orders. Hunter has the captain placed under arrest under the charge of trying to circumvent nuclear launch protocol during a time of war. The captain is relieved and locked in his cabin.
The rest of the film is a brilliant display of mutiny on the high seas. Men loyal to the captain and the XO do whatever to insure that what they are doing is the right action and that their country and loved ones are safe during a state of global crisis. The film’s conclusion is fantastic and both Hunter and Ramsey come to terms with their actions.
Crimson Tide was a box office smash in the early summer of 1995. Roger Ebert wrote in his column for the Chicago Sun-Times “This is the rare war movie that not only thrills people while they’re watching it, but invites them to leave the theater actually discussing the issues”.
Other standout performances include a pre Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen as Hunter’s best friend Lt. Peter ‘Weps’ Ince. Before he was T.V.’s Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini plays Lt. Bobby Dougherty, a supply officer who is loyal to the captain during the mutiny, and tries to restore the captain to his command. George Dzundza plays the chief of the boat, a man who is a long time friend of the captain, yet sides with Hunter because the XO’s actions were by the book.
My favorite scenes in the film have to do with the restoration of the ship’s communications so they can receive their orders to either launch or stand down. The tension in these scenes is fantastic and it has you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Who is right, and who is threatening the stability of world events, which may lead to nuclear Armageddon?
Crimson Tide is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Hollywood Pictures/Disney and can be rented through Netflix.