11 February 2004 | underfire35
One Of The Best Submarine Movies...
As CRIMSON TIDE opens we visit various crew members of the USS Alabama as they bid farewell to their loved ones. For one man, Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), it will be his first time as second in command of a nuclear submarine. Capt. Frank Ramesy (Gene Hackman) is in charge and is not shy about letting everyone know. He is a seasoned veteran, as juxtaposed with the young idealistic Hunter. The early scenes do much to set up the main conflict of the film. For example when members of the crew discuss Carl Von Clausewitz, and his 1832 work Vom Kriege ("On War"), the intellectual showdown occurs between Ramesy and Hunter. This scene not only heightens the tension, but also reveals the different philosophies of these two men, what they believe in, why they are there. This short scene goes a long way to setting up why each of these characters are so unbending when the crisis presents itself.
The Crisis: The ship has been damaged and the EAM contact that has been received is disjointed. The Russian force (who is never very carefully explained) is fueling rockets for use against the US. That's all they know. The captain wants to surface and fire, Hunter thinks he's wrong. Factions form, but the film does a good job presenting a good argument for both desicions (although you get the sense that the film makers lean towards the "dove" side rather than the "hawks"). As tensions mount, there are various shifts in power and the crew stands divided. Every member of the crew watching as the minutes tick by, closer and closer to the final moment of truth...
Hackman is at the top of his form here as the relentlessly tough Ramesy. When given a good script with room to work, there is few better at creating a solid performance. The looks he gives, the way he uses his eyes, his speech patterns, simply wonderful to watch. Washington is just as good as Hunter, and the showdown between these two men, near the end, sends sparks flying off the screen. The rest of the cast is filled out with strong actors: Matt Craven, George Dzundza, (pre LOTR's) Viggo Mortensen, and (pre 'Sopranos') James Gandolfini.
As is well known, the script received various rewrites from Robert Towne (the Clausewitz scene), Steve Zaillian, and Quentin Tarantino (the Silver Surfer references, the scene where the crew chimes in about other submarine movies). All these different contributions blends fairly well together. The story is tough and direct, and touches on points that heighten the tension. The photography, by Dariusz Wolski (DARK CITY, THE CROW), is tight and atmospheric; Hans Zimmer's score pounding and reflective. The VIP vote, however, goes to Tony Scott, who proves himself with this film. He knows when to hold shots and doesn't rush the action (as he did with TOP GUN); he paces the film well and let's his actors work for him. CRIMSON TIDE is an entertaining and challenging film that, along with films like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and DAS BOOT, may set the high water mark (forgive the pun) for the genre. 9/10.