a critiQal film review The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Plot: When decorated Russian sub captain Marko Ramius (Connery) takes a nuclear submarine with a brand new, nearly undetectable, propulsion drive into the water with unclear intentions, the Russians claim Ramius is planning on delivering a nuclear attack on the US. But, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) suspects the Russian Captain is actually trying to defect. With both the Russians and the US hunting for Ramius, Jack has only a few days to prove his theory correct.

705 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 31s)

As a teen, I got hooked on Tom Clancy’s novels. I read them voraciously. The first one I ever read was converted into a very well-executed film, Patriot Games (1992). While I would have preferred to see The Cardinal and the Kremlin on the big screen, Hollywood decided to adapt another book, and we got The Hunt For Red October.

Even though I watched it years ago, I didn’t remember much about it when it popped up on the NetFlix® queue. Would Sean Connery and a large ensemble cast be able to make The Hunt for Red October as entertaining as Patriot Games (1992)? Or would it be more like the rather forgettable film versions of Clancy novels, The Sum of All Fears (2002) and Clear and Present Danger?

In this first Jack Ryan film, it’s not Harrison Ford playing the character, but rather Alec Baldwin. Baldwin does do a decent job with the character (especially in those “a-ha!” moments when his eyes light up). Still, he always seemed a bit ill-suited for the part – a bit too uptight to be going it alone. While his character is supposed to technically be a fish-out-of-water type, there’s too much buttoned-up conservative in Alec (and still is, despite his attempts at changing that on “30 Rock” (TV)). Thankfully, Baldwin declined future films, and Harrison Ford (who should have been the first choice) got the chance to show what Ryan could really do in Patriot Games (1992).

Unlike slightly miscast co-star Baldwin, however, Sean Connery seems a perfect fit. He plays Captain Marko Ramius, the captain the whole film is centered around. With his obvious painstakingly exact plans set in motion long before, Capt Marko Ramius is a deliberate, yet highly inventive Captain, and an enigma worth getting to know.

The rest of the cast is decently cast, although Tim Curry seems a bit out of place on board a Russian sub. Sam Neill, too, at first seems like an odd fit, but he manages to make the role his own, and will garner a certain amount of respect from the viewer for it. Scott Glenn is a natural at this point in any type of military role. James Earl Jones as a CIA director is nothing short of perfection, although viewers don’t get nearly enough chances to see him (thankfully, he returned to reprise the role in future Jack Ryan films). Stellan Skarsgard, as a Russian captain himself – and one of Ramius’ former pupils – is also well-cast, displaying an intensity that both seems perfectly justified and easily apparent. Courtney B. Vance, the lawyer from “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (TV) is a nice surprise as an American sonar operator whose attention to detail is a pivotal point in the film.

The storyline seems both plausible and entirely too realistic, for the Cold War setting in which it takes place. Like Tom Clancy’s novels, the motivations are completely reasonable, and, in this case, the actions seem to fit those motives to a T.

John McTiernan, the director behind Die Hard (1988), knows how to pace his films perfectly. With The Hunt for Red October, the stakes are high, and McTiernan milks that tension. He gives the viewer a few jolts along the way to keep them on their toes, but doesn’t lose that tension. Yet, he doesn’t overdo it either, making the film something the viewer may be able to turn away from, but will always turn back to follow these characters through their journey. It’s more about the journey than the end objective with The Hunt for Red October, it’s true. But, with the lives of the characters involved constantly being threatened, both the journey and the finale are worth watching.

While it’s not quite up there with Patriot Games (1992) – after all, Harrison Ford is a much better Jack Ryan than Alec Baldwin – The Hunt for Red October is still a taut nail-biting thriller of a film. With Sean Connery leading a usually strong cast, the viewer will definitely not want to miss this one.

If only the Jack Ryan films could have continued along in the same stellar vein as The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games (1992). Oh well…at least we have these two to go back and re-visit again and again.

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