What I Watched Last Night: Crimson Tide (1995)

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Viggo Motensen, James Galdolfini

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The Cold War was a scary time for the human race, but happily, it proved to be a veritable gold mine for the military disaster genre. Tony Scott’s 1995 film ,Crimson Tide, makes propitious use of the unconsummated conflict by pretending that it happens all over again.

Using a real-life footage reel, Crimson Tide establishes a political climate hotter than a submarine control room filled with thirty sweating navy technicians. Pachenko, the Russian premier, has caused an international conflagration with his heavy handed suppression of a Checnyan uprising (rather topical, no?) Once the external conditions have been established, the action unfolds within the claustrophobic confines of the USS Alabama, an American (duh!) submarine packing a no-nonsense nuclear payload. Following the statutory loggerhead-lint meet and greets at the naval base, the Alabama Crew are told, rather forebodingly, to ‘fall out’ and man their battle stations.

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Gene Hackman puts forth the necessaries as the truculent stogie-chomping Captain Ramsay, but Denzel Washington is more memorable as his trigger-wary foil; ‘The enemy of war, sir, is war itself’. Tony Scott was a forthright fellow, and Crimson Tide does not beat around the bomb with its message; as long as humanity exists, so too will war.

Watching Crimson Tide, The Hunt for Red October (1990) will always be on the radar. It’s impossible to re-invent the typography of the war drama while working in such an enclosed and specific environment, either from a writer’s or a cinematographer’s perspective. In truth, they’ve all looked the same since Das Boot. Unlike Red October, Crimson Tide lacks character depth even though it provides only one point of view – that of the Lynrd Skynrd blasting, comic book flicking all-Americans. It also lacks Sean Connery schpeaking with a Ruschan achcent.

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