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On May 12, 1995, Buena Vista unveiled its war thriller Crimson Tide in theaters. The film, starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, went on to gross $157 million globally during its run. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Simpson/Bruckheimer have plunged to the ocean’s depths to reach the heights of commercial, big-movie filmmaking. Buoyed by steely lead performances from Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, Crimson Tide will readily roll into $100 million waters for Buena Vista.
A ’90s-style Caine Mutiny, Crimson Tide is a topical, and eerily credible, brink-of-disaster movie. It’s a riveting, post-Cold War scenario triggered by civil wars in the former Soviet Union.
In this heart-pounding case, the nutty nationalistic leader (read Zhirinovsky) of one of the former republics has gained control of a nuclear missile base, threatening to launch a global attack. It’s a race against time for the United States to neutralize him before he gets his hands on the launch codes.
Spearheading this response is the USS Alabama, a Trident class ballistic missile submarine under the command of Navy Capt. Frank Ramsey (Hackman), a grizzled old seadog whose battle prowess and combat-tested instincts are tops, and his new executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Hunter (Washington), a brilliant, but untested officer of the new school of military thought. Polar opposites in personality, Ramsey and Hunter nevertheless have the utmost respect for the other’s professionalism.
While the big picture here is the incipient nuclear holocaust if the renegade republic is allowed to launch its missiles, Crimson Tide‘s real charge comes in the explosive battle between the captain and his executive officer when the sub’s communication system breaks down at a critical moment. To launch the missiles, or not, that’s the question.
It’s a hard call: Ramsey reasons shoot first and ask questions later, but Hunter counters that such reasoning is unthinkable, triggering a certain nuclear armageddon.
In this well-crafted vessel, screenwriter Michael Schiller has solidly, if somewhat ploddingly, developed the respective personality traits of the two leads, as well as handily captured the claustrophobic nature of life aboard a submarine. While some viewers may consider the development a bit creaky, it’s a smartly welded structure and allows for the full-blast theatrics that are to follow.
Director Tony Scott, with his kinetic camera and tight, visceral visualizations, pumps the adrenaline to the top of the dramatic dial. A snappy salute to his technical team, including cinematographer Dariusz Wolski for the robust framings, composer Hans Zimmer for the titanic strains and the entire sound team for the surgingly chilly sub sounds.
Ultimately, it’s Washington and Hackman who make this heavy-ballast, summer film seaworthy: Washington’s steely performance as the by-the-book executive officer is captivating, and easily his most riveting performance, while Hackman’s hard-forged portrayal of the Queeg-like captain is all steely balls. Commendations to casting director Victoria Thomas for the well-assembled salts of all stripes, most prominently George Dzundza and Viggo Mortensen. — Duane Byrge, originally published on May 8, 1995.
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