Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini|
|Producer:||Hollywood Pictures, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lucas Foster, Mike Moder, Don Simpson, James W. Skotchdopole, Bill Unger|
|Distributor:||Buena Vista Pictures|
This fictional nuclear submarine thriller is a nail-biter in the tradition of “The Hunt for Red October”.
The conflict in the Russian breakaway province of Chechnya has spread to other areas, and an alternative Russian leader has taken control of large segments of the Russian army and navy including a sub base and a nuclear missile site. He threatens that if anyone (including the regular Russian army) moves on him, he will launch against the United States and Japan. The US nuclear sub Alabama under Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman) has been dispatched to the Pacific for a possible preemptive strike if US spy satellites should see the missiles being fueled. The sub’s XO (second-in-command) is sick and can’t sail, so Lt. Commander Hunter (Denzel Washington) is assigned to this boat. The two have different approaches to almost everything, Ramsey’s old-school “just follow orders” approach contrasting with Hunter’s “let’s think about why.” The crisis comes when the boat receives orders to launch a strike, followed soon after by a cut-off fragment of another order concerning the missiles. Ramsey and Hunter totally disagree about the priority of repairing the radio equipment and receiving the entire second message versus just following the orders they already have, and this disagreement splits the loyalties of the crew. The scriptwriters had to do considerable work to create this artificial dilemma in Navy regulations in which both officers were right and both were wrong.
There is heavy profanity (including about 25 uses of “f*”, some in a literal sense), a torpedo fight with a Russian sub resulting in some deaths, and internal armed conflict onboard the US sub in which the beliefs and loyalties of the crew are tested to the limit. Some of the men switch sides multiple times. In the battle of philosophies and wits between the officers, Ramsey never directly takes note of Hunter being black, but a consciousness of it seems to be there just under the surface. They even engage in verbal swordplay over Lipizzaner stallions, with Ramsey noting their great abilities and how they’re completely white, and Hunter countering that they’re black when they’re born.
Overall, this is entertaining as an action picture, but very unnerving. A note at the end of the film says that a year after the setting of this story (that is, 1996), launch capability will no longer rest with a sub’s commander, but will be under the direct control of the President (it doesn’t explain how).