Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, George Dzundza, James Gandolfini, Matt Craven, Viggo Mortensen, Rocky Carroll, Danny Nucci, Steve Zahn, Rick Schroder, Lillo Brancato, Jr., Ryan Phillippe, Daniel von Bargen, Richard Valeriani, Jason Robards
Written by: Michael Schiffer, based on a story by Michael Schiffer, Richard P. Henrick
Directed by: Tony Scott
MPAA Rating: R for strong language
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/12/1995

Crimson Tide (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Men in a Sub

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Here's a movie that, in the heat of the summer with all the big multi-million dollar budgets and product endorsements, is actually ambiguous. You can root for one character or the other, and you'd be right either way. Denzel Washington plays the book-smart military man who hasn't seen any combat, and Gene Hackman is the combat seasoned vet, who has only seen combat. It's a tired old combo, but it strikes sparks here.

The movie resurrects the Cold War for about two weeks in order to tell the story, which is fine. The two leads play captain and lieutenant. Both of them have to agree before any major decision can be made, such as the launching of nuclear missiles. Just as they are ready to launch, they receive an incomplete message from the higher-ups. Hackman, going by the book, wants to launch, because an incomplete message is no message at all. Washington has a hunch that the message might have been an abort order. I kept thinking: what a great mess this is going to be for the Pentagon to clear up when they get back. (It's cleared up by none other than Jason Robards in a neat cameo.)

Hackman gives another in a long career of great performances, and Washington is strong in a less showy role. Director Tony Scott has never set up an artistically composed shot in his life, but he does set up nice-looking shots. On a one-set movie like this, his skills do not go unwarranted. The infamous screenplay has many uncredited ghost-writers like Robert Towne (who also ghost-wrote on The Godfather), Steven Zaillian, and Quentin Tarantino, whose scenes about comic books, TV shows and submarine movies jump out at you.

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