Crimson Tide remains one of the very best Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer collaborations with the late, great Tony Scott at the helm. Don’t you miss that old lightning-bolt logo crashing down before a big-budget popcorn movie? Shot for a now-paltry $55 million and released in May of 1995, it featured an on-the-rise Denzel Washington going head-to-head against Gene Hackman as dueling nuclear submarine commanders engulfed in a hostile battle for command of the ship and the fate of the free world. An interrupted communications message leaves the crew of the sub unsure of what to do during a tense military stand-off with the Russians; will we or won’t we launch our warheads which will inevitably lead to WWIII? This film has a ton of replay value because Scott cared enough about his believable screenplay and his full-bodied characters to the point where his unavoidably stylish creative leanings didn’t overpower the entire production – it was a perfect match of material and filmmaker. A return to blockbuster form after the commercial failure of his mid-career masterpiece, True Romance, working in this souped-up fashion brought back the rollicking Tony Scott, and while his artsier offerings are always of massive interest (Revenge and Domino lead the pack), he knew exactly how to calibrate a big-budget thrill-ride movie. Recalling the claustrophobia of Das Boot and the grittiness of The Hunt for the Red October, Crimson Tide sits alongside those genre classics and many others as a first-rate submarine drama with narrative complexity to match its high-powered pyrotechnics, of which there are plenty.
Intelligently written by Michael Schiffer (Colors, Lean on Me, and the underrated The Peacemaker) with uncredited punch-ups by Quentin Tarantino (and others…), Crimson Tide has story tension, strong macho dialogue, and a credible finale after all of the angry dust has settled between Hackman and Washington. Both actors delivered power-house performances, sweating and snarling their way through each adrenaline filled scene. Budding master cinematographer Dariusz Wolski bathed the widescreen images in greens, reds, and blues, playing off of the submarine’s read-out screens with fantastic shadows covering the actor’s faces in numerous sequences. As Scott and Wolski’s camera darts down the sub’s narrow corridors and swings back and forth with almost primal ferocity, the film picks up a tremendous sense of visceral energy that continues all the way to the heated finish. The heavy use of extreme close-ups in tandem with Chris Lebenzon’s razor-sharp editing only further heightened the intensity. Hans Zimmer’s epic, often-borrowed score is one of his best, filled with moments of soaring grace that stirs your insides. And then there’s the ridiculous supporting ensemble, assembled by the legendary casting director Victoria Thomas, which includes no less than James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, Matt Craven, George Dzundza, Ricky Schroder, Rocky Carroll, Steve Zahn, Danny Nucci, Lillo Brancato, Ryan Phillippe, and an uncredited Jason Robards. The film was a hit with critics and audiences, grossing $160 globally ($91 domestic), thus putting Simpson and Bruckheimer back on serious track after two previous hits that year in Bad Boys and Dangerous Minds. It also garnered three Oscar nominations for Film Editing, Sound, Sound Editing. I’ve watched Crimson Tide probably 50 times and I’ll likely watch it 50 more.