Why Did I Watch It? Reading the book for book club this month, so time to revisit.
In the dying days of the Soviet empire, their boffins come up with a potential new superweapon; a revolutionary propulsion system that can render their submarines undetectable. The prototype is under the command of Marco Ramius, their most respected naval commander. But Ramius has a different plan; defect, and hand the sub over to the Americans. As the Russian and American fleets both try and track him down, Ramius has to use his wits to stay one step ahead; a high stakes poker game at sea.
John McTiernan provides more proof that he is one of the greatest of all action directors, adding this terrific action thriller to ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Predator’. It is the sort of movie we don’t get much anymore, unless it is part of a franchise (and, to be fair, they did try and franchise Jack Ryan); a globetrotting adventure with multiple locations, a stacked cast, and a lot of plot twists. Tom Clancy’s novel (which I am reading for book club this month) goes heavy on detail; an amateur naval historian, he has included what are almost like notes, on different submarine classes, and their technical specs. The movie wisely jettisons most of this, to keep focus on the plot.
As the first movie Ryan (there have been three others to date), Alec Baldwin is excellent as the naïve analyst, pitched suddenly into a military confrontation. The actor has spoken in recent years about the discomfort he felt as a Hollywood leading man, feeling he was never really suited to this. But he is perfectly cast here; likeable, outspoken, funny at times, and can handle being both the audience surrogate, and the spine of the story. The rest of the casting is colourful; Sam Neill at least tries a Russian accent (and is good as a straight laced Russian officer) which Sean Connery and Tim Curry do not. And James Earl Jones reprises his role in ‘Sneakers’, playing Ryan’s frequently exasperated CIA boss.
But McTiernan is best at set pieces, and brings to life what could have been some fairly stodgy showdowns between rival subs. The director’s skills are on full display in the finale, as three submarines engage in a complex battle with torpedoes and countermeasures. Some of the CGI looks a little dodgy now, but this sequence still pops. And there is tension throughout; manning a submarine is a dangerous business, and the essence of this is conveyed via several white knuckle moments.
One of my favourite all time popcorn movies, I’ve seen this at least 25 times. I just realised there is a director’s commentary on my DVD, which I am looking forward to as well.