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Crimson Tide (Unrated Extended Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Crimson Tide
(Unrated Extended Edition)

Hollywood Pictures
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington
theatrical release year: 1998
DVD release year: 2006
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

The crux of "Crimson Tide" is a battle of wills between Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) and Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman). It’s a story that also pits two age groups and personality types against each other. Ramsey is an old Navy guy, who has plenty of battle scars and hands-on sailing experience under his belt. Hunter, on the other hand, is an educated and philosophical new school leader whom Ramsey sees as young blood competition.

This was directed by, and although there's plenty of overt human conflict running through its story, action is still this work's primary characteristic. Much was shot aboard a set made to look like the nuclear submarine USS Alabama, and the title for the film derives from the University of Alabama's red-colored team rallying cry, The Crimson Tide. Its tale imagines what might happen if radicals in the former Soviet Union ever got hold of Russia's significant arsenal of nuclear weaponry and threatened to deploy on a foe. Here, these rebels have taken over a nuclear missile site and are preparing to take a shot at the United States. The clear counter mission for the USS Alabama is to strike at the enemy, before it strikes the USA.

Although its mission is spelled out in advance, communication is suddenly broken between the naval command center and the submarine. Those onboard don't know if the final message has ordered them to still go through with a missile strike at Russia, or hold up, instead.

It is this unfinished command that drives a deep wedge between Hunter and Ramsey. Ramsey reacts to the situation like a gung ho warrior who assumes that this communication would have most certainly ordered the strike. Thus, he prepares his forces to go through with the original plan. Hunter, on the other hand, is a far more patient and measured thinker. He imagines that Russia and The U.S. may have come to a peaceful solution already, and that firing off these deadly weapons might be an act of unnecessary aggression. His response is to fix the communication lines first, then obtain the full original message before doing anything else.

The biggest plot problem with this film is that Hunter is clearly the good guy here. And when I say good guy, I’m talking about an all good guy. There are no flaws in his character. He’s always thoughtful, and he always does the right thing. For instance, when fire breaks out in the kitchen, this commander immediately leads by example and comes to the KP workers’ rescue. He’s painted in such a glowing manner it’s obvious that his hunch will be right in the end. This makes the film’s conclusion anticlimactic, to say the least.

Ramsey is a much more realistic character. You like some aspects of this person, and dislike others. He’s a career Navy man that trusts his own confidence fully—sometimes to a fault. His bull-in-a-china shop approach may be an advantage in battle situations, but doesn’t usually make for good global politics. Hunter sees this looming crisis in purely objective terms, whereas Ramsey mixes it up with his personal pride, especially after being challenged by Hunter, which only muddles matters.

Since this story primarily takes place inside a submarine, its finite setting makes it feel a little like a play. To the filmmakers’ credit, these close quarters never cause the action to become claustrophobic. But you still get a sense of how difficult life must be for those that have chosen this cramped military endeavor. Personal space is non-existent. There’s a scene, for example, where everybody is dancing and singing to Motown music. But it is hardly a true party atmosphere. After all, it’s impossible to be at ease when the fate of the world is in your hands.

This film was released in 1995, but its storyline is still relevant today. The Soviet Union, at least as we used to know it, exists no more, but all of the weapons it stockpiled during The Cold War still remain as ticking time-bomb threats to world peace. These days, much of that region’s ethnic conflict, which was kept under wraps with the help of Mother Russia’s iron fist, is boiling to the surface. The idea of Russian rebels threatening any part of the world with nuclear weapons is a lot like the nightmare of Iran having such explosive power. Worse still is the possibility of a terrorist group getting its hands on these deadly weapons of mass destruction. In our current fractured political world, it’s no longer a case of two battling giants, as with the USA and Russia. Instead, extremist ideologies are turning foreign relations into a complicated and dangerous eggshell walk that’s hard to predict.

It’s wholly conceivable that US forces will mostly be called upon to help resolve isolated incidents, such as is the story portrayed here, instead of engaging in the full scale wars of days past. When a president declares war on terror, rather than making war on a particular nation, as Mr. Bush did, it gives you a good picture of the emerging state of our world. Scott’s film may be fiction, but its scenario is completely feasible.

While this story is accented by plenty of high tech sea gadgets, you probably won’t learn too much about submarines from watching it. That’s because Scott focuses almost entirely upon the give and take of deep human conflict to sell his story. This film features a shipload, so to speak, of great actors, including a relatively subtle performance from James Gandolfini, but we don’t learn too much about his character or any of the others. It’s like a heavyweight championship fight, where all these other performers are just the under card entries to the Washington v. Hackman bout.

Fortunately, Washington and Hackman are perfectly cast for their parts. Washington is such a smart actor, its easy believe that he is a highly educated military man. Hackman is also consistently great as the crusty man he’s so often called upon to play nowadays. When he shows Washington’s character the ropes at the beginning of the film, there is a twinkle in his eye that’s priceless. It’s the look of knowing experience, which Hackman has mastered so well. Such acting experience is golden.

Although Washington is black and Hackman is white, the racial card is never played during this story. These characters could have been just about any color for all we cared, because race factors never enter in. This war within a war is old school vs. new school, instead. Scott is a master with action drama; he’s like a visual editor that trims away anything that might get in the way of a gripping story told well. He’s left no fat on this one.

Had Scott left even a little doubt in viewers’ minds about this story’s conclusion, it might have been a truly great film. But predictability makes it merely a good one, instead. Even though most viewers will guess how it ends, such knowledge doesn’t keep it from being a terrifying underwater journey.

more details
sound format: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio: Widescreen (2.35:1 – Enhanced for 16X9 Televisions)
special features: Deleted scenes not shown in theatres; All access “On the Set Of Crimson tide” Featurette; “The Making Of Crimson Tide” Featurette
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
front speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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