John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October is considered the big daddy of submarine films and up until today I’d never seen the whole thing front to back. I now get the hype. This would always be on AMC or TBS Superstation when I was a kid, and my dad would always tune in no matter what. What a fantastic, thrilling, well acted film and one that carries a life affirming antiwar message while still containing some hair raising scenes of aquatic combat.
Marko Raimius (Sean Connery) is a legendary Soviet sub commander who has disappeared with the covert nuclear boat the Red October, plotting a course for the US eastern sea board and ditching any orders from Russian command. Is he going to nuke the east coast? CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) believes he means to defect and disarm but that’s a tricky thing to prove based on a series of hunches during a time of such uncertainty as this. Jack has an uncanny intuition about this guy, who remains somewhat of a mystery, even to his own crew and country. A harrowing series of chases, near misses, standoffs, moral wrestling, betrayals and political posturing ensue but at its heart this is a film about one dude who has had enough of war and just wants out, a theme I greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
Connery is superb here and this might be my favourite of his performances. He’s both enigma and beacon of personal integrity whilst fiercely not letting anyone get in his way, including a pesky, short lived political officer (Peter Firth). He carries the film with a grizzled nobility and despite being an antagonist of sorts, is the most likeable and relatable character. Baldwin fares very well as Ryan too and although Harrison Ford is still my tops, he plays this guy to the hilt with spirit and determination. Other standouts include Scott Glenn as a badass American sub captain, Richard Jones as a wry US negotiator and Courtney B. Vance as a keen radio communicator. The cast is amazing with killer work from Stellan Skarsgård, Joss Ackland, Andrew Divoff, Tomas Arana, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, Timothy Cathhart, Ned Vaughn, Fred Dalton Thompson, Gates McFadden, Shane Black, Peter Jason and James Earl Jones. This is the very definition of a solid film in all arenas and in that of thematic material and character, it excels wonderfully. My two favourite scenes: Connery and first mate Sam Neill discussing how they’d live their lives in America when all is said and done, where they’d live and what vehicles they will drive. Later on Ryan and Raimius share a moment alone on the sub’s deck as River banks pass by, each remembering their grandfathers teaching them to fish in their respective countries. Amidst all the angst, political unease, torpedos and destruction it’s nice to find little oasis moments of character, serving to remind us that whatever side we’re on and no matter how bad the conflict is, we are all just people. We all need reminding of that once in a while, and both Connery and Baldwin do that exceptionally with their work here. Great film.