Mutiny on the Alabama
What do you expect from a movie which boasts a list of talent that includes Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen and Tony Scott directing not to forget Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer as producers. That's right a powerful movie full of action, drama, strong performances and an edge of your seat ride, which is exactly what you get from "Crimson Tide" a movie which takes you deep beneath the waves and into a power battle on a nuclear submarine between a Captain and his Executive Officer. It's exciting stuff which keeps you glued to every second yet then buggers it up with an ending which is sadly dissatisfyingly weak.
When radical nationalists in Russia seize control and threaten to start World War III, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington - Philadelphia) finds himself posted aboard the US submarine Alabama as the new X.O. to combat veteran Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman - The Quick and the Dead). But their different styles causes a clash of personalities leading to a power struggle when an unverified message leads Ramsey to want to launch the nuclear missiles whilst Ramsey wants to wait for a verified one causing mutiny to erupt aboard the submarine.
There are two sides to "Crimson Tide" with an obvious side which focuses on the danger of a submarine at war. I say obvious because you get expected elements such as a close encounter with an enemy sub, leading to an intense battle and of course damage which leads to equipment failure, flooding and death. But this obvious side is handled so well, when the submarine starts to flood, the tension and drama rises as the water does but it never feels separate to the main storyline about the battle over command, it embellishes it acting as part of a bigger storyline causing conflict. It's used to build up the main characters making it integral to the storyline rather than just an expected element used as padding.
The main side of "Crimson Tide" is the power battle for control of the submarine as the old school Ramsey with his almost gung ho attitude battles new school Hunter with his more thought out opinions. It's an interesting and well worked battle starting from the first meeting between Ramsey and Hunter where you get a sense that both are strong characters with different styles and opinions. This battle continues throughout and builds to the crescendo when Hunter strips Ramsey of his command but it's so well developed that its believable, that Ramsey is trying to break Hunter's balls by exercising his authority over him such as the missile drill just after a fire had broken out in the subs galley.
What adds to this is a loyalty aspect that many of the senior officers on the sub have been in Ramsey's command for many years and so follow his orders with out question, even when he is going against the law. It adds to the whole intensity of the movie as although Hunter gets command you know that those who are directly under him don't necessary support him. Making the whole story boil up to an impressive crescendo as we are kept wondering who is right, whether Ramsey who wanted to fire the nuclear missiles was correct or Hunter who wanted to wait for a proper message.
All of which is great, for 99% of "Crimson Tide" everything works building on scene after scene, delivering drama, tension and the boiling power struggle. But then it wimps out delivering a final ending which is weak in comparison to everything which has gone before. It almost sits on the fence and spoils things.
What makes "Crimson Tide" so good is the casting of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman two powerhouse actors who can make the confrontational aspect of the battle work. Hackman in particular is outstanding as the old school Ramsey delivering an almost contempt of that way Hunter works leading him to try and break him. In the same way Washington is also outstanding as new school Hunter who's almost resentment of the bigoted and cocky Ramsey leads to a clash of personalities.
Aside from Washington and Hackman there are various recognizable faces which make up the crew of the submarine but it is George Dzundza who stands out as Cob the Chief of the Boat. The fact that he is stuck in the middle of the power struggle having to weigh up feelings of loyalty towards Ramsey and following protocol makes his character pivotal and Dzundza delivers the emotions of it brilliantly the sort of turmoil he feels in having to choose.
What this all boils down to is that "Crimson Tide" is truly a brilliant movie which may not be up there with the great submarine movies is pretty damn close. The intensity of the power battle coupled with the almost disaster aspect makes for an edge of the seat thriller which is only spoiled by the weak, cop out ending which almost feels out of place in such a tense movie.