Crimson Tide

by Tom Ingram

Genre War
People Denzel Washington; Gene Hackman; Tony Scott d.; George Dzundza; James Gandolfini; Matt Craven; Viggo Mortenson; Rocky Carroll; Danny Nucci; Rick Schroder; Hans Zimmer m.; Jerry Bruckheimer p.; Richard P. Henrick w.; Quentin Tarantino w.
/10 9

A US nuclear submarine is ordered to launch at Russia. A second emergency order, possibly intended to cancel the launch, is cut off in transmission when the ship is attacked by a Russian sub. The captain (Hackman) intends to go ahead with the launch, but the executive (Washington) refuses to concur with the order.

As I write this, Tony Scott has just committed suicide a few days ago. I had not seen any of his movies before (aside from a few moments of Top Gun), but I gave this one a try in his honour. It is exactly what everyone says about it. Washington, an actor I haven’t seen very much of (I watch the wrong kind of movies), is a stoic executive officer with a refined mind, the exact opposite of Hackman, an old guard Navy captain with just a hint of threat to him at first. Their chemistry is powerful; their shouting match on the bridge before Washington takes control of the ship is a tour de force.

With a pair of powerful leads and some very good supporting players (I can forgive George Dzundza for No Way Out), not to mention some of the most tense and claustrophobic action I’ve ever seen, this is my new favourite nuclear submarine movie, even better than The Hunt for Red October. I was told that Scott directed smart action movies, but I hadn’t quite expected this. Crimson Tide is a movie about human agency: you cannot treat a sub captain as a machine that infallibly translates the president’s fire order into a launched missile. The captain must decide to go ahead with the order, and all his underlings who play a part in it must do the same: if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. The movie ultimately comes down on the side of a Wolffian philosophical anarchism. It plays with some heavy stuff, and it doesn’t do a bad job of it at all.

1h56m; 1995; Colour; Oscar nods for Best Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound; Zimmer won a Grammy for the main theme.