The Hunt for Red October (1990) — Subs play ‘tag’ in the Atlantic

“Ryan, be careful what you shoot at. Most things in here don’t react too well to bullets.”

Justin’s rating: Notice how they never shout “RISE! RISE! RISE!” with the same oomph as “DIVE! DIVE! DIVE!”?

Justin’s review: On a good day at the Mutant Reviewers offices, we might be witness to the grand spectacle that is PoolMan treating us to his superb Sean Connery accent. On a bad day, he does the same — but wearing his kilt and little else. Sure, we’ve tried speaking to him about it, but he always tells us what “loshers” do and then smacks us around a bit.

Of course, there’s positively no stopping him after we collectively watch one of Connery’s masterpieces. In the case of The Hunt For Red October, it’s worth the bustle and boom. Even so long after the Cold War was heated up to a Mild Simmer and then made into Peace Tea, I still consider this one of my must-sees, at least once a year. Why? To put it succinctly, The Hunt For Red October is one of the better political thrillers out there, and almost certainly the single best submarine movie ever made.

Based off the Tom Clancy thriller, or — as the beginning of the film suggests — some sort of hush-hushed military incident in the mid-80s, Red October is the quaint tale of a Russian sub skipper who gets ants in his pants and makes off with a near-silent submarine and causes all sorts of holy hell across the Atlantic (I almost typed “holly hell”, but I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a Holly on the boat).

While not exactly an ensemble piece, Red October has staggering star power. Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, Stellan Skarsgård — and these aren’t the main characters! Sean “goose-stepping morons” Connery IS Capt. Marko Ramius, the mad Russian skip with a trick or ten up his sleeve, while Alec “well played, clerks” Baldwin IS CIA analyst Jack Ryan, a guy who really, really wants Connery’s autograph and is prepared to chase him down to the ends of the earth to get it.

The literary talent of Tom Clancy and his fifteen-pounds-per-tome attitude may be debated, but the man has a knack for giving full scope to a story by bouncing around to dozens of characters and their plots, and this film is probably the most faithful Clancy translation in this regard. From Moscow to D.C. and at many stops between, the situation grows more tense as everyone reacts to what could be a prelude to a nuclear strike and war. Only Jack Ryan considers another possibility… and I’m not going to spoil it for you here.

Traditional sub movies have a load of tense situations, close quarters, dive-dive-dives, and so many torpedo firings you’d think it was a skeet shooting range. While Red October shares these qualities, it possesses something the rest do not. It’s got a story that goes well outside the sub’s hull to the world larger, and also gets into some serious character development. It’s not just about a bunch of unshaven guys staring at the ceiling in pretend horror because of some pretend depth charges. There’s mystery, intrigue, action, long-spun yarns, geek toys, and just some excellent camera direction by Die Hard director John McTiernan. My words of praise are limitless here for the quality that seems to effortlessly exist here, yet is so rarely seen elsewhere.

Plus, to be honest, I just miss the Russians. I mean, I know they’re still around, and chances are that Mutant Reviewers has a loyal Russian fan base, but it’s just not like it used to be. Action movies from the ’80s were dependent on an overpowering evil threat, and the Red Menace served those purposes grandly. Being able to revisit a kinder, gentler time when the Russians and Americans stood across a line from each other, growling and flexing titanium muscles is a lot easier to mentally grasp than the current murky political landscape.

While Connery might be Scottish or possibly Dutch in real life, he makes a wonderfully gruff Russian here. While many actors bring various qualities to movie roles, he has the unnerving knack of always being a character who is the Rock of Gibralter: steady, solid, and always has his head above the waves. Well, metaphorically above the waves, as he’s in a sub here. Anyway, it’s great to see Connery in his prime before he slid down into retirement.

Don’t be fooled by your lesser imitation brand sub movies — your Crimson Tide’s, your U-571’s — accept only the pure quality that can be provided by a submarine endorsed by 007 himself.

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