Submarines hold a near-mythic place in the pantheon of Great American Male Film Fantasies, and this juggernaut of a movie plays right into these childlike fantasies of the great submariner ships. As directed by Scott (True Romance, Top Gun),
the subs in Crimson Tide
-- both the U.S.S. Alabama
and the Russian Hunter-Killer class sub that is stalking her -- are huge, shadowy behemoths gliding soundlessly through the icy brine and looking like nothing so much as a pair of chillingly phallic sea creatures engaged in some bizarre ritual display. Freud, doubtless, would have had plenty to say about this particular genre of American filmmaking. Grounded in the current Chechnyan political instability and the rise of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia's spokesman for the extreme right, Scott's film posits a sudden takeover by rebel Russian soldiers of various strategic nuclear arsenals and the West's alarm over such an occurrence. Sent in to “give the rebels pause” are Captain Ramsey (Hackman) and Executive Officer Hunter (Washington) of the U.S.S Alabama,
ostensibly America's first and last line of defense in such a crisis situation. Once on board the sub, the two men find themselves not only in close quarters but also in constant conflict, as the complex, Harvard- and Annapolis-educated Hunter and the crusty, combat-hungry Ramsey engage in their own verbal and psychological war while the real thing waits just around the corner. When the Alabama
receives what is apparently a legitimate order to launch its nuclear payload at the Russians, mutiny appears to be a given, doubly complicating what is an already emotionally charged tour of duty for the men on board. Scott is a master of slick action films, and Crimson Tide
is beautiful to look at: It is, of course, the first big summer movie of the season. Bathed in brilliant greens and blues, even the claustrophobic interior of the submarine is spectacular, and shots of the Alabama
breaching before a dive are downright awe-inspiring. The central conflict between Hackman and Washington, though, quickly becomes bogged down in unintentional war movie clichés as the two act and react to each other (especially in Hackman's overwrought, bombastic performance) like a pair of noisy schoolchildren. Their conflict has all the subtlety of a torpedo. (But then, who looks to summer blockbusters for subtlety? Perhaps I'm asking for too much here.) Granted, both performances, as well as many by the supporting cast, are top-notch, but it is
like watching a couple of pit bulls go at it. Crimson Tide
succeeds nicely as a Sturm und Drang
action film -- the underwater battle scenes are genuine white-knucklers -- but it's no Run Silent, Run Deep.
Go see it, get the adrenaline rush, and then go home and forget about it. It's noisy and fun, but that's all it is.