Blog Directory CineVerse: October lingers--even into December

October lingers--even into December

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Cold War is long over, Alec Baldwin's turn as an action star ended decades ago, and films featuring an all-male cast are now out of fashion. So why should we care about "The Hunt for Red October," John McTiernan's 1990 political thriller, which features Sean Connery as a renegade Russian commander of a high-tech nuclear-armed sub and Baldwin as all-American hero Jack Ryan? We explored the myriad reasons yesterday at CineVerse. Here's a summary:

How is this movie different from other films about submarine or naval conflict, and what did you find surprising or satisfying about The Hunt for Red October?

  • Unlike other war films such as Das Boot, there arguably isn't as much action. This is more of a story about contrasting personalities and trying to gain a mental and strategic edge over your opponent; as such, there’s a lot more dialogue than you'd possibly expect, although there are several tense torpedo and evasive maneuvering scenes.
    • Esquire reviewer Calum Marsh wrote: “What's interesting about Red October is that it is, at least on paper, a film in which practically nothing happens. The bulk of the running time is spent cross-cutting between Sean Connery's state-of-the-art submarine heading toward the U.S. in near-silence and the Americans sitting around boardrooms discussing at length how best to proceed. It's to McTiernan's credit that so much of this is made intense…It's telling that the film's most exciting scene isn't the last-minute bombing of the climax or the close-quarters corridor chase that precedes it, but rather a moment a little earlier when Ryan tries to convince his superiors that the ship they are hunting will momentarily turn toward starboard instead of port.”
  • Arguably, this is less a submarine film than a movie about military and political strategizing. In most other pictures about submarines, the destiny of the vessel itself and its occupants is of central concern to the viewer.
  • Instead of using subtitles and have the Russian characters speak in their native tongue, the filmmakers choose to have them speak in English.
  • Interestingly, the timing of this film’s release coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union, which puts at risk our capacity to care about the political tension. Wisely, the filmmakers chose to set this story in 1984, when the Cold War was still a serious concern.
  • The cast assembled here is quite impressive, even down to the smaller supporting characters: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, Scott Glenn, Sam Neil, Courtney Vance, Tim Curry, Joss Ackland, Peter Firth, Jeffrey Jones, and Fred Dalton.
  • We learn early on that Ramius is seeking to defect, which confirms Jack Ryan’s theory; by giving the audience more information, this increases the intrigue and suspense among the audience and makes us sympathize more with Ramius.
  • There’s extra intrigue by challenging the viewer to solve the mystery of the saboteur aboard the Red October.

Themes at work in The Hunt for Red October

  • The mysteries of human nature and the challenge of trying to predict what another human being will do.
    • Roger Ebert wrote that this film suggests “how easily men can go wrong, how false assumptions can seem seductive, and how enormous consequences can sometimes hang by slender threads.”
  • Gamesmanship and careful strategy: The characters in the story are playing a high-stakes game of military chess, and the citizens of the United States and the Soviet Union who are unaware of and powerless in this game are the pawns who will pay the price.
  • Betrayal: Ramius feels betrayed by his native country and is demonstrating his disloyalty by defying orders and possibly defecting.

Similar films that come to mind

  • Notable submarine combat films like Das Boot, Crimson Tide, K-19: The Widowmaker, The Bedford Incident, U-571, The Enemy Below, and Run Silent, Run Deep
  • Other adaptations of Tom Clancy novels featuring Jack Ryan, including Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears

Other films directed by John McTiernan

  • Predator
  • Die Hard
  • The Thomas Crown Affair

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