Looking at some of Tony Scott’s movies (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, and The Last Boy Scout) it is hard to accept that Crimson Tide is a movie of his. It is even harder to accept that Crimson Tide is a Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson production. As you look at the visual style of Crimson Tide it is obvious that this is a Tony Scott movie and it is a Bruckheimer and Simpson production.
Why do I say that it is hard to accept that Crimson Tide is a Tony Scott movie? Because Crimson Tide is so intelligent, so character focused, and the action so tight that it seems anomalous to previous Scott/Bruckheimer/Simpson productions. In previous Tony Scott movies, such as Top Gun, the action was wildly over-the-top and the characterization mere one-dimensional – enough to keep the movie going and enough to keep the action coming. But, this anomalous movie, Crimson Tide, from Tony Scott shows that he can do a movie that is all gloss but filled with characters that we care for and are truly dimensional and layered.
Gene Hackman is Captain Frank Ramsey, captain of the nuclear submarine Alabama. His XO, executive officer, is out with appendicitis, and he needs a new one. Why? Because his boat is about to set sail to take care of some hostile rebels in Russia who have seized a military base and is threatening a missile attack on the US. The new XO that Ramsey picks is Lt. Commander Hunter, played by Denzel Washington. These two men are exact opposites. Ramsey is a simple man that follows orders without having to know why. Hunter, a Harvard trained officer, wants to know why before doing something. This puts the men at odds when trouble arises. And trouble arises when they are forced to consider firing their nuclear missiles. It is a broken EAM (Emergency Action Message) transmission that puts these two men at odds. Should they fire their missiles? Or should they get confirmation?
The script by Michael Schiffer gives the audience many things to think about when all hell breaks loose on the Alabama. Both Ramsey and Hunter are correct in what they are doing on the ship – but in the same sense both of them are also completely wrong in what they are doing. Ramsey and Hunter cause a mutiny aboard the Alabama and the crew is split between the two head men. Both men believe that they are correct and in my eyes I believe that they are both correct also. So, there lies the dilemma proposed by Schiffer: Who is right onboard a nuclear missile submarine when there is no chain of command left? And following this why is the chain of command important?
Early in Crimson Tide, it boldly mentions other great sub movies as if to taunt the audience to compare those classics with Crimson Tide. And, if one were take the challenge up and compare Crimson Tide to the movies mentioned –The Enemy Below and Run Silent, Run Deep – Crimson Tide would stand proudly next to them. Instead of putting out a completely mindless action movie where the two men battle it out with flying bullets and fists, Crimson Tide is the battle of will between the two men. The film makes the audience think with the two men, about the consequences of their actions and who is really right. Though I was more sympathetic and understanding to Washington’s Hunter, Hackman’s Ramsey was not all wrong either.
Washington gives a great performance as Hunter. He presents Hunter as a strong willed man who is not afraid to take a stand – against even a superior – when he believes that he is right. Hackman also does a great job with Ramsey. Hackman gives a layered performance, putting a happy easy going exterior to Ramsey, but showing the darker interior from time to time. It is the performances of these two that carry Crimson Tide. But, the supporting cast also gives great performances. These include Matt Craven, Rocky Carroll, Danny Nucci, and Lillo Brancato. The strongest supporting actor in Crimson Tide would be a toss up between Viggo Mortensen as the one man that holds the second set of keys to the nuclear missiles and George Dzundza as the by-the-books Chief of the Boat.
Crimson Tide has a lot of action in it; but surprisingly enough the action is not the main focus of the film. Rather the focus of the film is of the two main characters and of the two ideologies that these characters carry with them. The action is handled well by Scott, but it seems that Scott has a newfound way of integrating the action with the characters.
By all means, Crimson Tide is one of the most enjoyable films made. It is well directed, well acted, and well scripted. Tony Scott knows how to build up emotions throughout the film and does it well. The film will not only makes you think, it will also entertain you. Crimson Tide is a film that works on two levels: One while you’re in the theatre gasping for breathe along with the sailors on the screen when they are in danger. And the second when you leave the theatre it works on a level that makes you gnaw over what was presented to you. Sure, this doesn’t feel like a Tony Scott film at first, but you’ll get used to it. And I hope Tony Scott can put out more great films like Crimson Tide. Don’t Miss Crimson Tide.