Crimson Tide (1995) Directed by Tony Scott. With Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen, George Dzundza, Matt Craven and James Gandolfini.
Tony Scott’s adeptness in the playground of male bravado continues with Crimson Tide, a brink-of-disaster submarine drama in which male ego threatens the world with nuclear holocaust. Co-headlining the film, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington play captain and first officer of the USS Alabama – two men with opposing world views, called upon to serve together for the first time as a missile crisis develops in Russia and DEFCON4 is invoked.
With an excellent all-male cast working together on tight sets, there is a good amount of threat and tension created within the claustraphobic confines of the deep water sub. In a sense, there remains something distinctly science-fiction about submarine-set films – considering the hostility of the surrounding environment, with a highly technical crew assembled to serve aboard a vessel, heavily relying on each other amid the hazards of exploring the abyss. Add unfriendly rival subs (Klingons/Romulans) to the mix, and essentially, you’re watching an episode of Star Trek. Indeed, Denzel Washington goes so far as to invoke Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise in one key scene.
What really makes Crimson Tide work, though, is watching two great actors lock horns. Hackman potrays a man at the end of his career in the navy; stubborn, arrogant and disrespectful toward Washington’s more by-the-book approach. In terms of character, we’re never really asked to take sides, (Hackman is loathsome) which is a shame, especially considering the overarching dilemma presented by the plot. Alas, Michael Schiffer’s script decides from the off that the audience is emphatically Team-Denzel.
Where before it has been distracting, Tony Scott’s muscular style is a good fit for the material, as he frames the drama with lopsided camera compositions to heighten the disorientation. There is a sense that the ‘movie’ dilutes the dramatic situations somewhat, but we’re never less than fully invested. 4/5