By Marc S. Sanders
John McTiernan’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s first bestselling novel, The Hunt For Red October, might seem dated but it’s still a crackling good thriller. It’s one of those films where you truly feel like you’re walking through the secretive hallways of DC government buildings with their elevators accessed only by an Admiral’s key. Soon you’re in a dark, underground boardroom. You’re also there on the various naval crafts and submarines with alarming lights, shiny steel and glowing monitors. The biggest treat is being in the command center of the titled sub, Russia’s Red October, commanded by their captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery). All in all, Terence Marsh built a convincing production design.
Clancy’s story takes a different approach than most thrillers involving Cold War politics. Ramius might have been a James Bond villain in another film as he hijacks Red October, but there’s more to him actually. Rather, Ramius wants to defect to the United States. Most of his command crew is in agreement as well. America doesn’t necessarily see it that way; a Russian, missile equipped submarine quickly approaching the eastern seaboard with other subs following him?!?!?!? Let’s not polish the tea set so quickly.
Fortunately, one man had the pleasure of meeting Ramius once and doing extensive research on the General’s background; Jack Ryan (appropriately cast with a young Alec Baldwin). Ryan is given three days to catch up to Ramius and guide him safely to the United States while avoiding getting the famed submarine shot down by either power nation.
I must point out my favorite scene and it actually takes place in that secret boardroom where it dawns on Ryan of Ramius’ true plan. Baldwin is great here. The young guy who is green when it comes to military and political protocol. McTiernan gets his company of generals and high ranking officials into a large quarrel over what to do and then he zooms in on Baldwin thinking for the close up before he calls Ramius a SON OF A BITCH. It’s at this moment, that the movie going consensus and fans of Clancy overall determined that Alec Baldwin was the best of the cinematic Jack Ryans. (No slight to Harrison Ford, who was too middle aged for the role when he took the part).
Connery at least has the commanding appearance of Ramius’ stellar reputation. He is not very exciting or charismatic. Then again, I don’t think Clancy built the character that way. Connery plays the role as silent, yet wise and experienced as implied by his well groomed, white beard and hairpiece plus his square stature. If this man is standing in your presence, you better give him an update. You shouldn’t have to ask if he wants one.
Good moments are made available to Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill and Stellan Skaarsgard as well. It is the talking scenes among all these fabulous actors that really build tension. The underwater scenes…not so much. The subs look like long, black blobs weaving their way through depths and avoiding missiles coming their way. It’s forgivable because McTiernan always keeps the characters at play. This isn’t a film that relies on the dog fights depicted in Top Gun or Star Wars. McTiernan keeps his audience away from drowning in the underwater murkiness.
The makers of this yarn really are a great combination of imagination. We got Tom Clancy and John McTiernan to thank for a gripping tale from 1990 that still holds up today. The Hunt For Red October is definitely a film worth revisiting.