Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Amazon founder and space entrepreneur Jeff Bezos recently tweeted about the upcoming second season of Jack Ryan. Jeff is a pretty cool guy; I like what he does and it’s always interesting to hear him speak. Amazon has also nailed the CIA subgenre with Patriot, one of the best shows on streaming. But Jack Ryan? Give me a break.

The filmmakers behind Jack Ryan have strayed far from their roots; The Hunt for Red October is about solving mysteries and making peace rather than blowing shit up. Rather than Jim from The Office, it stars a (relatively) young Alec Baldwin. It’s a sharper and more masterful film than every subsequent work that has beared the Jack Ryan name.

Red October asks the question, “What if Star Trek were real?” It primarily takes place aboard nuclear submarines in the Cold War. The Americans are like the Shatner-era Federation and the Russians are like the Romulans. Dramatic lighting, the closeness of the crews, Alec Baldwin when he was duly appreciated as an actor, all of it contributes to one of the best cinematic experiences you could ask for. And it’s surprising, because it’s a fucking submarine movie.

Submarines are hard to make interesting. If they were showy, they’d get blown up. Hummers are very showy, and they get blown up all the time. Jack didn’t start riding in Hummers until he de-aged ten years and started with the macho schtick. Alec Baldwin seems to get a lot of hate, but I don’t hate any character he has played as much as the Jack Ryans played by other actors after he left the role.

Baldwin’s Jack Ryan is not a macho guy, he’s a CIA analyst tasked with investigating a submarine. He doesn’t do kung-fu or pose in front of explosions, he just does his job. His antagonist, the captain of the Russian sub Red October, is played by Sean Connery. Both men play their parts admirably. With egos as massive as theirs, it’s a small miracle that the film isn’t an unintentional comedy, but it isn’t. Director John McTiernan holds the film together.

So, Red October can run silent and has the power to nuke a portion of the United States. Sean Connery runs off with it, and everybody is naturally worried. Baldwin works for the good guys and begs hard enough to get a ride on a submarine. They find Red October, it turns out Connery wants to defect, and all is well. That’s the plot, and it doesn’t get in the way of a good viewing experience.

No booms are heard except for the baritone voice of CIA director James Earl Jones, thus proving that competent filmmaking wins over loud noises. There is some “melodrama” at the end, but nothing that detracts from the film. Tom Clancy did write the original story, but this was before he got patriotic. Somehow, the pieces fell together into a puzzle of a thriller that continues to entertain decades after its release.

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