“Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary – The American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage.”
Set in November 1984 and based on the Tom Clancy novel, The Hunt For Red October opens with a reveal that the Russians have invented a submarine with a “caterpillar drive” that is quiet enough to avoid detection. This sub’s captain, Marko Ramius (Sir Sean Connery), becomes a wild card as the U.S. Navy brings in expert Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) to help. Actions affect both protagonists in some way, even though they’re not in every scene together.
As usual, Ryan gets more involvement than he planned as his formidable skills make him incredibly helpful in this tense situation that has the potential for serious consequences. Ryan is a CIA intelligence analyst, author, and Professor of Naval History at the United States Naval Academy, so it takes some convincing for military personnel to get on board with him.
Directed by John McTiernan, this complex action/drama/thriller full of military terms and international government protocols. This quest for intelligent materials and intriguing situations creates a solid bond between the audience and Ryan. Audiences will be rewarded for being up to the challenge of tackling this involving film, which begins in Russian then switches to English for the remainder.
The solid story is backed by an incredible supporting cast where many of the actors progressed on to great leading roles later in their careers. Ramius’ crews include Captain Borodin (Sam Neill), Dr. Petrov (Tim Curry), and Political Officer Ivan Putin (Peter Firth) while Konovalov Commanding Officer Captain Tupolev (Stellan Skarsgård) and Soviet Ambassador Andrei Lysenko (Joss Ackland) factor into the plot. I could hear Ackland talk all day, which makes him perfectly cast to carry some exposition and add emotional gravity to this scenario.
The U.S. crew on the USS Dallas include Commanding Officer Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) and SONAR operator Seaman Jones (Courtney B. Vance) while CIA Deputy Director James Greer (James Earl Jones), Admiral Painter (Fred D. Thompson) and National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt (Richard Jordan) also have notable roles. McTiernan also appears in the film as a military advisor.
Audiences discover Jack’s character and knowledge as we discover the narrative and are pleased to see that Jack is up to the task. Admiral Painter even asks a fellow officer to “cut the kid some slack” because even he knows Jack’s background deserves respect.
McTiernan and his very talented crew, which included director of photography Jan de Bont, earned well deserved Oscar nominations for editing, sound, and sound effects editing. The graphics, texts, and maps provide the documentary-like presentation of the events. The audience needs some orientation and visuals are the best way, especially in a film.
Audiences who read the book will likely envision more plot points since they contained more details than the film. Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart adapted the original work into this solid screenplay with uncredited contributions from David Shaber.
The Hunt For Red October comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and is rated PG for military violence and tense situations. A well-layered masterpiece that only gets confusing when you’re not paying attention.