The second of today’s Jerry Bruckheimer reviews arrives with Crimson Tide, a typically understated Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer piece that examines the conflict between two characters debating the launching of nuclear weapons, martial command and the end of civilisation…
One of these days, Jerry Bruckheimer is going to remake My Dinner With Andre, taking an intimate two-hander and reimagining it in his own style. Playing Wally and Andre will be Will Smith and Nicolas Cage and though the first course goes smoothly, as does the introductory glass of wine, further courses are interrupted by Colombian drug barons, an all-female ninja squad and an Irish Repubican splinter group. With Cage’s entering of his chip-and-pin arming a nuclear weapon hidden in the pavlova, it’ll be down to Wally and Andre, not to mention two pieces of Wensleydale and a cheese knife to disarm the weapon before making love to the waitresses, leaving a decent tip and…roll credits. My Dinner With Jerry!
Until such time – and, please Jerry, don’t make us wait for that as long as we’ve had to wait for Coyote Ugly 2 – Crimson Tide will have to make do as Jerry Bruckheimer’s best character-driven piece, finding conflict in the third most powerful station in the world, the command of a nuclear submarine. As trouble flares in a breakaway Russian republic, wherein a nationalistic leader has surrounded and taken control of a nuclear weapons facility, the U.S.S. Alabama is dispatched from the west coast of the US for the waters of the Pacific, where they are to wait for orders concerning their use of nuclear weapons. As exercises commence and the crew nervously await their commands, Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) and his new Executive Officer Lt. Cmmdr. Ron Hunter (Denel Washington) get to know one another a little better, finding their contrasting styles leaves them butting heads on more than one occasion.
Soon, though, personal differences are put to one side as an order reaches the Alabama that it is to arm and fire its nuclear weapons on Russia but at that moment, a Russian nuclear submarine launches a surprise attack on the Alabama. As preparations commence to launch missiles, the Alabama dives deep into the ocean to avoid detection but, in doing so, a new message is cut off. Was it a command to the Capt. Ramsey to stand down his missiles or was it a launch confirmation. As the Alabama battles its nearby enemy, it Ramsey and Hunter disagree on how to process…wait for a repeat of the orders only partially received or go with the existing orders and launch. Hunter and Ramsey threaten one another with arrest but only one of them is prepared to lock the other in the quarters. As they avoid the Russian sub and with being in a state of radio blackout, the crew of the Alabama debate the orders…wait too long and the US may be destroyed in a surprise nuclear attack but don’t wait and will they be the ones actually starting the war? The minutes pass slowly by at the bottom of the ocean…
Much more subtle than a typical Tony Scott film – in that it’s as subtle as the application of a Black & Decker through the forehead but lacks the blood-and-heaving-bosoms of a True Romance or the thunderous V10s of a Days of Thunder – Crimson Tide is a fairly effective edge-of-war thriller. With a very decent cast – Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington are often so very good that one tends to grow accustomed to their better performances – Crimson Tide hides a multitude of sins underneath its superior acting. At heart, it’s a thriller based on a martial equivalent of a misheard conversation – receiving an order to launch their nuclear weapons, Hackman prepares to do exactly that but in encountering an enemy Russian submarine, they only receive part of a message that may be the confirmation to launch or may be the retraction of the existing command. The script stretches this out more than it really ought to have done with Denzel Washington’s XO replacing Gene Hackman’s captain, then a freed Hackman placing Washington under arrest before the two of them sit on the bridge awaiting orders and talking about horses. The fate of the world hangs in the balance as they argue about whether a particular type of horse has its origins in Portugal or Spain.
But such conversations are often the most appealing aspect of Crimson Tide. The world view is often ridiculously simple and the plotting depends on the XO having the authority to have the captain removed from command but not vice versa but there are some lovely moments in the film, not least when Hackman and Washington look out over the Pacific Ocean at sunrise before submerging. There’s talk of the politics of war but also of comic book characters and the hands of both Robert Towne and Quentin Tarantino, who performed uncredited doctoring of the script, are felt throughout. What you assume to the Towne’s contributions sit better than Tarantino’s, leaving the film often moving forward as sleekly as a submarine under the water but occasionally, such as all mentions of Star Trek, as awkwardly as one trying to propel itself on land. The edge-of-the-seat stuff has been done better, not only in Fail-Safe but even in the Xs-and-Os of War Games, but this still entertains in all of the right places, being quite a suspenseful little film and, for a Tony Scott movie, literate. But not quite literate enough and never once do you believe it will end any other way than how it does, which, for a film that hints at the end of the world, comes as something of a disappointment.
With the trademark Scott imagery in place – developed, one tends to assume, by Ridley but happily handed down to Tony similar to how they might have passed on a pair of shoes in their youth – Crimson Tide is a good looking film and the submarine fetishist will find much to enjoy in its claustrophobic setting. Though this doesn’t come to DVD with a particularly bad picture quality, it isn’t quite as sharp as one would have expected with there being a good deal of blinking lights but very little detail in the close-ups of Washington and, more noticeably, Hackman. The picture looks too soft by half and although the colour palette appears to be fairly faithfully presented – blacks are pretty good – things look a little too plasticky where they ought to be sharply metallic. The Dolby Digital audio track is actually quite good, offering a noticeable amount of bombastic orchestration, exploding torpedoes and the quiet thrum of submarines running on silent. The ambient noise is noticeably pleasing throughout, making good use of the rear channels and subwoofer for best effect.
Deleted Scenes: There are three included here, which would appear to be in addition to those that have taken the Theatrical Cut into being a Unrated Extended Cut. The three scenes – short as they are – are as follows: Movie Trivia on the Bus (30s), Sara Interviews Radchenko (1m32s) and Awaiting the Naval Hearing (1m13s).
All Access: On The Set of Crimson Tide (10m18s): Hosted by ‘chief of the boat’ George Dzundza, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the set of Crimson Tide that looks to have been shot without care or preparation, simply grabbing shots as and when they present themselves. With a good deal of Tony Scott – probably too much, to be honest – this suggests that the small sets of Crimson Tide were a smelly old place to be, what with Ramsey’s dog pissing on them and both Tony Scott and Gene Hackman’s cigars. There’s a time and a place for one, being best left for after dinner and being accompanied by a whiskey. That’s the cigars…and not the pissing dog.
The Making of Crimson Tide (19m56s): Crimson Tide was produced whilst Don Simpson was still alive and there are occasional glimpses of him on the set, looking much less interested in what’s going on around him than Jerry Bruckheimer as well as a short interview with him. Stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington and screenwriter Michael Schiffer join in to explain the movie – though, if you know why it needs five people to do so, please let us know by hand-delivering a note to the usual address – which is then followed by a production feature that is subdivided into The Men, The Navy, who didn’t cooperate, The Mechanics and The Commanders. Tony Scott being a commander, you know.
Finally, there are Trailers (11m40s) for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia, Remember The Titans, Glory Road and Eight Below.
Much like the so-called Unrated Extended Edition of Con Air, this is also somewhat misleading. Against a Theatrical Cut of 115m, this release is 122 minutes and I had assumed that those seven minutes would have been obvious but no, they would appear not to be. There does appear to be more of Quentin Tarantino’s script doctoring in place – including a movie trivia quiz early in the film that’s as out of place as his later pop cultural riffing on the Silver Surfer – as well as more of Radchenko, including an interview that I can’t recall seeing before and Hunter carrying out the captain’s orders to have a word with Cobb about his weight but there’s nothing that the MPAA, nor the BBFC, would baulk at.
Again, like Con Air, all the things that one would have liked for this edition, such as a DTS track, a commentary and branching scenes are absent, making this an unnecessary purchase for all but the most ardent fans of Bruckheimer’s dumb-but-loud action movies. Which may, in its own way, be a worthwhile method of smoking out those on an emotional hair trigger who are statistically, I suspect, those more likely to run riot with automatic weapons in shopping malls.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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