Written by: Michael Schiffer
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini
Being confined in sealed places with other random people could be the makings of a nightmare for some, which submarine movies set up splendidly. It’s one thing to be stuck in a car, as you can jump out if things get bad, but traveling with a vessel deep in the ocean can limit your options to staying put or death. Always fascinating and Crimson Tide uses this setting to its advantage in creating a constantly tense environment.
With the threat of Russian missiles being launched against the United States, the submarine USS Alabama is sent to patrol and possibly act in firing back if necessary. Leading the ship is Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), who brings plenty of experience and chooses Lieutenant Commander Rob Hunter (Denzel Washington) to serve as his Executive Officer. Both with different perspectives of battle and experience, their partnership gets threatened when a mixed message arrives about their orders.
Seeing two legendary actors face-off with strong dialogue feels like a present to any film lover, as the best know how to truly drive home powerful moments. Crimson Tide is full of scenes where actors can truly flex and we gladly have the tremendous duo of Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington to soak it up. These two wonderful actors deliver on the goods promised when you see a submarine movie with their names attached. This genre of film always comes with a strong sense of tension because of the confined nature of the environment. Things get heated and sweaty, especially with two incredibly prideful characters.
Both Hunter and Ramsey have built a level of respect from the work they have done but their methods have some large differences. Ramsey has more of the old-school mentality where he works based on intuition and guts while Hunter believes in analytics and goes by the book. Similar to something like Moneyball where older scouts in baseball do things based on what they feel versus what the numbers and potential say with analytics. Their differences cause some mild disagreements at the beginning of the feature, but things begin to get really testy when some unclear communication comes through to attack a Russian base.
This miscommunication sets everything off where you have people being accused of mutiny and not following proper protocol and the film builds up to this disagreement in an efficient way. It sets the field of this being a time after the Soviet Union’s fall, but tension still remains with the nuclear power Russia had at its hands and the constant uneasiness military members feel when on the field. With Ramsey having much more experience on the field, the era of the actual Cold War certainly still lingers in his mind while the younger Hunter tries to look at everything through his fresh perspective. Put the stress of the global circumstance with the power of missiles at one’s fingertips and being stuck on a submarine with a bunch of tired men; yes, things get crazy.
The greatest thing about this film arises from the relatability of it all. Even with it being fiction, I can certainly imagine this circumstance where these issues would occur happening between a bunch of men stuck on a submarine together. The chain of command may be integral to the way the military operates, but when instances like what we see in this film occur, things will inevitably break down. It’s the humanity in all of us and we see that poke out in each of these characters. Based on his experience, Ramsey probably relishes the opportunity to fire upon an enemy he has battled covertly for decades while Hunter cannot escape the ramifications if they were to preemptively fire and cause unnecessary death. This becomes an integral part of the story because our allegiance as an audience can shift between the two perspectives. Great arguments and debaters do just this when they create two plausible ideas for us to choose between. Both Hunter and Ramsey have a point in their way of thinking but the execution of it has far too grave results for it not to be a unanimous decision.
As expected with a drama at this level, things get a bit wild with what the men decide to do and how they have the ability to rally people to their side. The drama works excellently in showing not just the perspective of Hunter and Ramsey, but also other members of the crew, who simply want to serve their country but must now pick sides between two superiors. Certainly, a stressful situation considering choosing one side or the other could end your career depending on the final result and the country could be in war because of the decision made by some men within a submarine deep in the water. Crimson Tide builds up such a palpable tension because of the stakes involved and egos caught up with it.
Energizing and pulse-pounding, Crimson Tide serves as an exhilarating drama willing to tackle the idea of a chain of command in the military and when mutiny becomes necessary. It works so well for a variety of reasons, but the two leads in Washington and Hackman deliver such stellar performances to give the proper weight to the roles given to them. This film stands as my favorite Tony Scott movie, as he uses his typical tendencies at its best with the confinement of the submarine and the actors he gets the opportunity to direct. A complete slam dunk and a viewing experience that will leave you at the edge of your seat for almost the entirety of the story.