CRIMSON TIDE pits two strong-minded Naval officers against one another on a nuclear submarine poised to possibly unleash World War 3. The hell-for-leather 1995 thriller sets two brilliant actors to face off, and falls on the positive side of the ledger in the actioner-packed career of director Tony Scott. His flashy panache could work well (True Romance, Spy Game, Man On Fire) or be off-putting (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Domino), but here Scott keeps his camera and editing away from Jarring-Speed and focuses on the tension in the formidable cast, who deliver.*
“We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it,” hardcase old-school ‘Capt. Ramsey’ (Gene Hackman) lays it out for his new Exec, ‘Capt.Hunter’ (Denzel Washington), whose military education, unlike Ramsey’s, is absent any combat experience. When Russian separatists seize a nuclear arsenal and directly threaten the US, its up to the crew of the submarine USS Alabama to stop them, though that may entail firing missiles that could start the ball on a global holocaust. Damaged communications, relaying orders for the strike, sets the commanders and their respective factions of the crew on mutiny mode.
The screenplay by Michael Schiffer (with some contributions from Robert Towne and Quentin Tarantino) is sharp and entertaining enough to sail past its simplifications (and using those dang Russkies as villains, with footage of then-President Clinton brazenly shoehorned in for topicality): adrenaline carries the day. It’s a pleasure just to watch Hackman and Washington square off like a pair of lions jousting for rule of the pride.
“In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.”
Because it involved mutiny, cooperation from the US Navy was not forthcoming (so tough they’re threatened by movie fiction), so apart from some helicopter-shot footage Scott captured of the real Alabama submerging (irony: in evading the film-maker the Navy gave him the shots he needed—whoops, bet someone got chewed out) the production relied on the French, who were gracious (if that’s the word) enough to provide some use of one of their Triomphant-class subs and the Foch, an aircraft carrier. The underwater special effects are well-done.
Nominated for three Oscars (Film Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing) it was the #11th most popular film of ’95, wresting $91,400,000 on home base and another $66,000,000 across assorted seas, putting paid to a $53,000,000 launch.
“I expect and demand your very best. Anything less, you should have joined the Air Force.”
Sweating with nervous conviction: Viggo Mortenson, George Dzundza, James Gandolofini, Matt Craven, Rocky Carroll, Danny Nucci, Ricky Schroder, Steve Zahn, Ryan Philippe. Music score by Hans Zimmer. 116 minutes.
* Washington and Scott re-teamed for Man On Fire, Déjà Vu, The Taking Of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable.