Crimson Tide Movie Review

The Cold War may be over, but it lives on through films like Crimson Tide.

Crimson Tide is a new action/psychodrama about a mutiny aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine. When World War III is about to erupt thanks to Russian coup-artists, the USS Alabama, helmed by Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is sent to prepare for the worst. When the order to launch comes in, Ramsey's executive officer, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), clashes with the Captain over a last-minute, incomplete order which could recall the missile launch. The result is mutiny, with half the ship siding with the Captain's single-minded, stubborn decision to fire, half standing with Hunter, who wants a confirmation before blowing up the world.

Sound thrilling? Well, after about 45 minutes of the two principals philosophizing about life and war, trading quips, and smoking cigars, then the action part of the film comes to life. Unfortunately, this prologue does little more than develop the characters like this: Captain Ramsey is a obstinate military man, Hunter is a thoughtful peace-lover. In fact, most of the lengthy dialogue is arranged to show just what a great guy Hunter is, and that Ramsey is on the verge of being a Captain Ahab, hunting the Russkies like they're a latter-day Moby Dick.

When the action sequences do finally come up, they start with a nonsensical galley fire (no one can put it out except Hunter, who--get this--actually pushes a button on the wall to save the day). Then there's a flooding bilge bay, and on this ultra-high-tech ship, the preferred tool for repairing a flooding sub is none other than a monkey wrench. When the radio breaks, the crew is fast at work soldering together enough wire and circuit boards to control the U.S. telephone system. All this talk about the film making the military look bad isn't quite right; instead, it just looks ridiculous.

This all may be quibbling, but the pure silliness of some of the film really detracts from the bulk of it, which is a gripping and tense thriller with two armed factions of men trying to either launch or stop the launch of ten of the Alabama's nuclear missiles. The chemistry between Hackman and Washington, while kept basically predictable, is still full of tension and repressed anger as the characters are forced to maintain a surface civility despite an obvious dislike underneath. The set constructed to recreate the USS Alabama and the sub combat scenes are incredibly realistic and make the film worth watching all by themselves.

Much has been made of the similarity between this film and movies like The Hunt for Red October, Top Gun (directed and produced by the same team that did Tide), and other genre pictures. While the inevitable similarities are apparent to some extent, they certainly don't overshadow the picture, and like the flaws discussed above, they don't keep Crimson Tide from being a worthwhile film.


Crimson Tide Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 1995


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