Crimson Tide (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Crimson Tide is a white-knuckler with a cop-out ending. It's a thrill-a-minute ride that concludes with a whimper, like a roller-coaster that has all the drops and twists early. Make no mistake, this is a good source of early summer fun, but with a little extra imagination, it could have been a whole lot more. There seems to be a mentality in Hollywood to settle for something once it reaches a certain acceptable entertainment level. Why take a chance and "push the envelope"? Crimson Tide is a perfect example of this sort of thinking.

There's a lot happening in this film. It opens with a quick synopsis of the current political situation: Russia is in the midst of a civil war and the anti-American rebels have taken control of a nuclear base. The USS Alabama, commanded by Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman), is ordered off the Asian coast as the "front line and the last line of defense." Since Ramsey's usual XO has appendicitis, he must chose a new right-hand man. At the top of a short list is Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), an officer who doesn't necessarily agree with his captain's no-thought, gut reaction method of commanding. Tension builds as orders from land make it apparent that war is imminent. A Russian sub -- possibly hostile -- is sighted nearby, and the crew is ready to mutiny when a fissure develops between the two men who must co-authorize a nuclear launch.

Michael Schiffer's script (as doctored by an uncredited Quentin Tarantino) works hard to incorporate elements from the likes of The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot, weaving them into his story of mutiny on a nuclear vessel. In some ways, trying to do all these things almost overburdens Crimson Tide. So much is going on that no single element gets the screenplay's full attention.

Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman are both in top form, and their multiple confrontations are some of Crimson Tide's best moments. With these two actors going toe-to-toe, everything else fades into the background. There's little doubt that Hunter is the hero -- the guy the audience is supposed to identify with -- but he's shown to have a fault or two. And, while Ramsey is the obligatory human antagonist, he has his redeeming qualities, and his position on the to-launch-or-not-to-launch issue is not without merit.

The underwater battle scenes are marred by surprisingly poor special effects. Crimson Tide's models look like the sort of thing that could be assembled from a store-bought kit. Fortunately, these sequences don't comprise a large portion of the running time. Most of the action takes place within the boat, and these claustrophobic scenes are far more believable, realistic, and effective.

Because of the contained environment, submarines make great settings for thrillers, with the throbbing of the engines sounding like a pulse. Crimson Tide is no exception -- the atmosphere alone is sufficient to keep the audience on edge. There's not a lot that's remarkable, ground-breaking, or earth-shattering about the production, but director Tony Scott (Top Gun, True Romance) shows a flair for the visual, and the result is an optimistic beginning to 1995's summer movie season.

Crimson Tide (United States, 1995)

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, Matt Craven
Screenplay: Michael Schiffer
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Hollywood Pictures
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1995-05-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1