Crimson Tide (1995)

You could write a thesis about this one full of doubles and foils and impressive literary terms.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Thriller

Director: Tony Scott

Actors: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen

Year: 1995

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

Thank God for Viggo Mortensen. Without him I would never have watched Crimson Tide, and I would have missed out on a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter of a movie. Any time you hand me a video with a red and black cover that promises nothing more than a “clash” on a submarine, I flash to the nap I took during The Hunt for Red October, and give it right back. What kind of boring word is clash? For all we know, the conflict amounts to someone showing up in a badly matched outfit. This movie is about mutiny! And not just one mutiny, but two mutinies! Yee haw!

What the video box fails to convey as it describes Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington disagreeing over the launch of a nuclear missile is that Gene Hackman is a scary “hard ass”. He wants to bomb the pants off Russia, even though they experience a communication failure in the midst of receiving an emergency message after the launch is ordered. Denzel Washington steps in as the quiet, respectful voice of reason, and tries to convince him that it’s not reasonable to start World War III without knowing it’s absolutely necessary.

Mutiny occurs when Gene refuses to concede, and he is placed in restricted quarters as Denzel attempts to restore order and receive the rest of the emergency transmission. As luck would have it, James Gandolfini is overwhelmed with undying loyalty to his commander, and he arranges to break out Gene and overthrow Denzel. All of this goes on as the clock ticks on the nuclear missile launch and enemy subs shoot torpedoes at the U.S.S. Alabama. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, even when the clicker fell behind the couch and I knew I needed to fetch it if I actually wanted to turn the movie up and hear what they were saying.

Crimson Tide reunites Gene Hackman and the lovable, rotund George Dzundza from the excellent No Way Out. It seems like everywhere you look is a famous face, even if it only appears for a moment. There’s James Gandolfini, Jason Robards, Danny Nucci and Viggo. You can also spot Ryan Philippe and Ricky Schroeder if you watch carefully. You get to see Viggo do his own ironing, and hear Ricky use the f-word! It’s like watching hell freeze over!

As if all this weren’t enough, there is actually a literary quality to the opposition between Denzel and Gene. Early in the film it is established that Denzel is a horseman, while Gene prefers the company of his clever Jack Russell Terrier. Gene then launches into a speech about horses being dull but intuitive, and how “you don’t have to be able to read Ulysses to know where you stand with them”. He is of course speaking about Denzel in some capacity, but when the Jack Russell approaches him with his tail wagging, Gene acknowledges that the dog approves of him. The metaphor is carried throughout the film, and culminates when the two discuss the Lipizzaner stallions: horses that are so well-trained that it boggles the mind, but are actually controlled by a cattle prod up the ass… horses who are born black but turn white. You could write a thesis about this one full of doubles and foils and impressive literary terms.

In truth, I knew I was in business as soon as I saw the names Simpson and Bruckheimer. I have always been a sucker for their sleek, over the top, testosterone-driven movies. I suspect there’s an entire generation of people who were forever transformed by watching Top Gun at a formative age. I curse Don Simpson and his hard living! He should be here still with Jerry. Like Goose and Maverick they should never have been separated by death… Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were the cinematic equivalent of the Doublemint Twins: they were double the pleasure and double the fun, and so is Crimson Tide.


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