Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

3 Nominations, 1 Win

Win: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing - Cecelia Hall and George Watters II
Nomination: Best Film Editing - Dennis Virkler and John Wright
Nomination: Best Sound - Richard Bryce Goodman, Richard Overton, Kevin F. Cleary, and Don J. Bassman

Released during the final throes of the Cold War, The Hunt for Red October is very much a film of its time.  Yet because of its avoidance of silly Soviet stereotypes and refusal to characterize the Soviets as simple baddies, The Hunt for Red October remains a fun and worthwhile political thriller even nearly 22 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Based on Tom Clancy's debut novel, The Hunt for Red October tells the story of Jack Ryan's (Alec Baldwin) efforts to aide in the defection of Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) and the safe delivery of a Russian nuclear submarine as he contends with the tense political machinations found in every Tom Clancy tale.

Reportedly, the narrative was so realistic that many military types were uncomfortable when the novel was first published, believing Clancy had illegally accessed and used classified material.  The story is indeed cleverly plotted, but there are some problems.  First, because we learn early in the film that Ramius is planning to defect and not threatening the American eastern seaboard as initially feared, there's little suspense  and no antagonist beside the vague awareness of the Russian navy.  The film would have benefited by leaving the audience in the dark for a longer time regarding Ramius's true intentions.  Also, though Jack Ryan makes a few heroic moves in order to put himself in the position to save the day, he is largely a bystander with little direct effect on the action; The Hunt for Red October is clearly Ramius's movie.  Though the final conflict is cleverly designed, it seems beside the point and not enough of a direct result of the previous action of the movie.

Despite its structural problems, John McTiernan and his fellow filmmakers clearly put great care into the movie, lifting it from a forgettable political thriller to a very well made film.  Basil Poledouris's score is top notch, Jan de Bont does wonders with his cinematography under the beyond challenging limitations of filming in such tight quarters, and the supporting cast is made up of some of the best actors around.  It's hard to recall how many times I exclaimed "HE'S in this movie too?!"

The Hunt for Red October was enormously popular, and it's not hard to see why.  It's clever and twisty without being confusing, action-packed without being violent, and the story was rooted in the real world deeply enough to create a sense that the actions of the characters had actual consequences.  It's not a perfect film and needed more work in the early stages of writing, but it's a top-notch effort and still holds up long after the end of the Cold War.

Remaining: 3136 films, 866 Oscars, 5382 nominations

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