Beyond chill, it's a standard thriller that rivets attention by the best of all devices--casting.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Crimson Tide" will make you long for the Cold War. What innocent days those were, when our adversary was known and we all lived safely for four decades under the unspoken agreement, that whatever other terrible things we did to each other, neither side would use nuclear weapons.

This nuclear-fear film plays unashamedly to our very real fear of catastrophic weapons in the hands of small countries that have become rogue players on the world scene with every intention of showing the big boys they won't be ignored any longer. Full as it is of implausibles and theatrics, the movie still imparts a terrible chill.

Beyond chill, it's a standard thriller that rivets attention by the best of all devices--casting. Denzel Washington brings such dignity and intelligence to his role that the central conflict becomes far more important than the defects, and Gene Hackman is convincing as a disintegrating megalomaniac who just may blow up the earth. With these two on screen, just try letting your attention drift.

Shortly into the film, the dark, spare shape of a nuclear sub carrying destruction in every tube begins its emergency mission: a preemptive strike against rebels in the Russian Republic who have succeeded in capturing both nuclear missiles and the launch codes to fire them. The rebel leader has announced that he will arm the missiles and send them toward the U.S.

In a simple, clear plot twist, the U.S. sub is forced, by the presence of a Russian sub, to a depth where communications are lost, making it impossible to know if orders to fire have been rescinded. That's it. The rest is the moral battle between Captain Ramsey (Hackman) and Lt. Commander Hunter (Washington) over pulling the trigger.

If the movie is awash in computerized color and technical talk, we can still understand the meaning of "approaching hull crushing depth, sir." The crew seems computerized too. Only the two leads come alive. You'll watch Hackman scratch his head whenever agitation captures his psyche, pet his terrier too kindly before he attacks his crew, and listen too calmly to opera in his bunk when his command is challenged. His behavior has an awful resonance in a real world full of demagogues.

In fact, there is a lot of odd stuff on this trip. You may wonder why crewmen smoke full-time in an airtight steel tube, or why two very fat men are allowed to huff and puff their way through speed drills. But the inconsistencies are overwhelmed by the duet of the leads.

It may be that there is no more ominous sight than a sleek, dark death machine sliding slowly beneath the ocean's surface and carrying with it a sick captain and the potential to obliterate the planet. It is the certainty of man's imperfection that turns this ordinary thriller into a real chiller. If only Captain Ramsey were an overblown caricature. But he isn't.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Hollywood Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h55m

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