I always find it neat when filmmakers take a very detailed novel and manage to bring it to the screen in a competent, entertaining way. Some films are so superficial that you want to puke, while others crucify themselves on the altar of detail (to steal a quote from a book about law students). One nicely done book-to-movie is “The Day of the Jackal” (click here for my review) and another is “The Hunt for Red October.” So today I’m looking at the outcome of when director John McTiernan took Tom Clancy’s best seller about a defecting Russian submarine captain and his “boat” and made it totally engrossing on the screen. When the film compresses time and details from the book, you easily understand why (if you read the novel) or not even realize it (if you didn’t read it).
‘The Hunt for Red October’
(1990; 134 minutes; rated PG; directed by John McTiernan and starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin and Scott Glenn; available on DVD through the Collier County Public Library; available on DVD through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com; available via Netflix; can be found on cable movie channels)
A NEATLY EXECUTED COLD WAR DRAMA
In my opinion, the best movie drama with its setting in the Cold War is “The Bedford Incident” (click here for my review). But not too far behind is “The Hunt for Red October” and it didn’t need improvements to special effects over the 25 years between the two to make it a contender. It does it the old fashioned way: character development.
Of course there is action and some competent underwater scenes (a bit primitive in today’s wonderful world of CGI effects), but “The Hunt for Red October” is carried by the actors and especially by headliner Sean Connery as Soviet naval captain “Marko Ramius.” Not too far behind is an actor whose personal behavior as a complete and utter jerk always overshadows any of his work: Alec Baldwin as novelist Tom Clancy’s iconic CIA hero “Jack Ryan” (this movie is based on Clancy’s first best-seller of the same name).
The story of “The Hunt for Red October” is simple: Connery is disgruntled at Communism and intends to defect to the United States with the gift of the Soviet Union’s latest and most technologically advanced submarine – the “Red October.” There is an intricate plot throughout as Connery first kills the political officer aboard the sub; has to evade his own navy; and then communicate with the U.S. Navy in order to get his seamen off the sub without them knowing that it will go to the Americans.
In the parallel story, Baldwin is the analyst who deduces the defection and becomes the president’s envoy to the military and ultimately leading the effort to get aboard the sub and come face-to-face with Connery. Along the way he has to deal with initially stultifying efforts from top military brass to incredulous naval officers in the North Atlantic to a top-shelf, follow-orders submarine captain so capably played by Scott Glenn.
The deceit by Connery is obvious since you know his intention, but director John McTiernan handles it so well that the storyline is seamless and easy to comprehend despite the complexities presented in Clancy’s novel. In the end, the good guys win. Most of the bad guys don’t know what happened and the one who did is on the bottom of the Atlantic in his own torpedoed sub.
He’s an Oscar winner and Connery is at his commanding best here (and the beard is great for both being a sailor as well as Russian of his age). He completely submerses himself in the character of “Ramius” (pun intended) and is the backbone of the film. Connery is most famously the first “James Bond” (check out “Goldfinger” – click here for my review – and “Diamonds are Forever” – click here for that review) and has also been in “The Rock” with Nicolas Cage.
It’s unfortunate that he’s an Oscar nominee for “The Cooler,” but Baldwin does an adequate job here as the earnest, intelligent CIA analyst (too bad he’s such a total jerk in his personal life). However, ultimately the role would have been better suited to another actor. Baldwin has also been in … ah, who cares? I certainly do not.
Glenn doesn’t have much room to maneuver as “Cmdr. Bart Mancuso,” who is the captain of the U.S. attack sub on Connery’s track. Glenn isn’t given the opportunity to show emotion, but he conveys a commanding presence mixed with intelligence. While Glenn is good here, he was better in both “The Right Stuff” and “Silverado” (click here for my review).
The political characters here play off each other very well. They are:
- Golden Globe winner Richard Jordan plays National Security Adviser “Dr. Jeffrey Pelt” and doing the politician thing is certainly in his acting wheelhouse. Jordan is smooth when necessary and a bit tight and assertive at other times. Too bad the role wasn’t a bit bigger. He was also in “The Mean Season” and was solid in “Logan’s Run.” Jordan died at 56 of brain tumor three years after “The Hunt for Red October” was released.
- Joss Ackland plays disingenuous Soviet ambassador “Andrei Lysenko.” Ackland plays the pompous, authoritarian bureaucrat really well and this movie is no exception. Like Jordan he is smooth, but gets the chance to add to his emotions here instead of just the usual gruff and officious. Good job, Joss. He also played a two-faced Soviet bureaucrat in the wonderful HBO film “Citizen X” (click here for my review) and as a good guy was in “The Mighty Ducks.”
Oscar nominee (“Equus” in 1977) Peter Firth plays the doomed political officer ironically named “Andrei Putin” (the film was made long before the similarly named political officer became the leader of Russia). Firth is forthright and forceful in his few minutes on screen.
I’ll run down a few more of the actors and a quick impression:
- Sam Neill plays Connery’s second-in-command “Executive Officer Vasiliy Borodin.” He’s competent in his usual strong, stoic manner but does come out and admit at one point he’d like to drive an RV once they get to the U.S. Neill’s most recognized film is “Jurassic Park” and its second sequel (click here for my review of “Jurassic Park III”).
- Tim Curry, the veteran of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” plays Dr. Yevgeiy Petrov” and is completely fooled by Connery’s ruse. Curry flits in and out on occasion here, but doesn’t do anything remarkable.
I’m not going to take any more space to write about other supporting actors such as Fred Dalton Thompson and James Earl Jones, who are both excellent here.
Director John McTiernan, who is better remembered for his “Die Hard” franchise efforts, does really nice work, including the tiny details – such as the Russian characters speaking their language briefly until a segue in Connery’s cabin puts them in English for the rest of the movie.
“The Hunt for Red October” was the sixth ranked film at the box office in 1990 with $122 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “The Hunt for Red October” made $200 million on a budget of $30 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Home Alone” with $285.7 million. One film from 1990 that I reviewed was Steve Martin’s “My Blue Heaven” (No. 53 with $23.5 million – click here to read it). The No. 2 film was “Ghost” with $217.6 million, while the No. 3 film was “Dances with Wolves” with $184.2 million.
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Baldwin got his part when Harrison Ford turned it down (thanks a lot, Harrison for letting the jerk get in). Neill benefitted, too, when Ford turned down the lead in “Jurassic Park” and he got that one (again thanks, Harrison – but only because Neill was so good, not because he’s a jerk).
- Directly from IMDb.com: “It is a manly film: Gates McFadden with Louise Borras (as Jack Ryan’s wife and daughter) and Denise E. James as a flight attendant have the only credited female speaking roles, and all of their dialog scenes are over before the end of the opening credits. There is an uncredited female engineer speaking in the background at Skip Tyler’s dry dock and another (non-speaking) flight attendant appears at the end, but apart from that there are no other women in the film.”
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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