Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day Eighty-two - The Hunt for Red October, or "Ford might be a better Jack Ryan, but he cannot beat this ensemble."

Both the books that Tom Clancy writes and the movies made out of said books have one thing in common (you know, aside from the fact that they tell the same stories)... the earlier, the better. Patriot Games was good, Clear and Present Danger not so much, and The Sum of All Fears... yikes! The Hunt for Red October was, and still is, the definite cream of the crop when it comes to Tom Clancy films.

While I do love Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, as he has much more charisma and believability for the character than Alec Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October is, by far, the best of all the Clancy movies. There are several reasons for this, but it is primarily due to Sean Connery, Sam Neill, and the rest of the Red October's crew.

Set during the height of the Cold War, The Hunt for Red October tells the tale of the defection of the command crew of a state of the art nuclear missile submarine build for the exclusive purpose of a devastating first strike. Both the book and the film bank heavily on Cold War paranoia and brinksmanship, and play it up seriously, without all the laughable ham-fisted BS you'd usually see out of an 80's war flick (think Red Dawn or Miracle Mile).

I really like the feel of every moment in the subs, whether it was in the Red October itself (where we spend most of our time), the sonar room and main deck of the Dallas, or the tight confines of the bridge of Stellan Skarsgård's attack boat, each feels claustrophobic and genuine. This is especially true when you take in all of the props and set dressings. The Russian subs all have this air of old world class mixed with stark utilitarianism while the Dallas feels high tech and open. Even the lighting is used to great effect, the Russians all reds and yellows, the Americans all blues and tans.

What really sells the movie, though, are the actors. 

Like I said, I preferred Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan, but Alec Baldwin does a pretty good job. While I cannot believe Gates McFadden as his doctor wife (luckily, she's only there for a scene), Alec and his interactions with his American compatriots (James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Jeffery Jones, Senator Fred Thompson) all ring true.

Sean Connery, though, dominates this movie. He is every inch a command officer and acts it. Proud, stoic, decisive. In his opening minutes, he is mysterious... then, when he deals with his Political Officer, we see he can be brutal even as he is calm and thoughtful. As the movie progresses, we can definitely see the character that leads men and earns their devotion.

I also like both Sam Neill and Tim Curry as counterpoints for Connery, the former a true first officer and the latter duty-bound doctor. Both play their roles tremendously well. You don't feel a hint of deception from Curry even as his character wrestles with the conflicts of his orders and duty (granted, it's a small role, but he does it so well) and Sam's portrayal of Borodin makes me believe it... especially as the screws begin to turn and he starts losing his composure.

To be honest, this is how Cold War films... or any war film... should be done. John McTiernan and his crew put together an excellent piece that had great acting, fine attention to detail, and only one or two hiccups (which came in the form of a few awkward ADR moments). 

Yes, it's very pro-USA, but it didn't shy away from portraying both our military and our government as human and fallible... nor does it make the Russians out to be your stereotypical Red Menace. The closest we get to a commentary on the evils of Communism comes in the form of the political officer and his blasé invasiveness and the general purpose of a boat like Red October. Everything substantive about the film is just the cat and mouse game, not the politics.

I can definitely recommend The Hunt for Red October to just about everyone. It's solid filmmaking and storytelling and was an impeccable first entry for the franchise. A pity the follow up films didn't have the same oomph (even if Ford was a better Ryan).

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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