April 22, 2020

The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Grade: 41/100

Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill

What it's about. It is 1984. The Soviets have a brand new submarine, their biggest and best yet, with a silent engine that makes it undetectable, equivalent to the Romulan Cloaking Device. The sub is the Red October, and her captain is Ramius (Sean Connery). His humorless right hand man is Borodin (Sam Neill). Because it is a movie, Ramius plots to defect, and turn over the Red October on its maiden voyage to the Americans.

But both the Russians and Americans think Ramius instead intends to fire nuclear weapons on the U.S. Eastern seaboard. So, they try to find the Red October, and sink it. Luckily, heroic Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is on the job. He discerns Ramius' intentions, convinces the U.S. military brass of this, and helps shepherd Ramius, his crew, and his prize sub to the Americans, despite inevitable plot twists.

The cast also includes Scott Glen as an American submarine captain, James Earl Jones as a Navy admiral, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson as another Navy admiral, Tim Curry as a Russian submarine officer, Courtney B. Vance as a submarine sonar technician, Peter Firth as a creepy Russian apparatchik, Joss Ackland as the Russian ambassador, and Richard Jordan as an NSA director. The Queen of England does not show up.

How others will see it. The Hunt for Red October was a box office bonanza, grossing about seven times its budget. It was generally praised by critics, and received three Oscar nominations each at the Oscars and BAFTA. The most significant among these was a BAFTA Best Actor nod for Sean Connery.

At imdb.com, the film has 172K user votes, less than one-fourth the total for director John McTiernan's Die Hard, but still a respectable number. The user rating of 7.6 out of 10 is high, and tends to rise with increasing audience age.

The user reviews are full of praise, e.g. "One of the best films I've ever seen", "Best film of Tom Clancy", "The action-thriller to end all action-thrillers", etc.

How I felt about it. I can accept Sean Connery and his Scottish accent as a Russian, and, given that the film is three decades old, it's almost acceptable that there are virtually no female characters (we see Jack Ryan's wife for about five seconds, and a couple of kindly and attractive stewardesses have cameos). It is amusing (though completely coincidental) that the Russian operative Connery murders is named Putin (the future Russian kleptocrat was an obscure KGB officer in 1990).

The movie, though, is ruined by two things: a preposterous plot, and the cheesiest dialogue to be found in any A-list thriller. The eye-rolling story has the top Russian submarine captain defecting to America with his top officers. No plausible motive is presented for these men to abandon their families, risk their lives, and become traitors to their country. Ramius murders a man in his private quarters. He sends a communique to his headquarters stating he will shower the U.S. with nuclear weapons, thus making it highly likely that his sub and all lives aboard will be destroyed by either the Russians or Americans.

Fortunately for Ramius, Jack Ryan is on the job. Because he met Ramius once at a reception, he knows exactly what Ramius will do, and what his intentions are. Ryan, who is nervous simply as a passenger in a commercial plane, is soon transported by helicopter and dumped into the Ocean near Mancuso's sub. He then effectively takes over command of the submarine (keep in mind, he is only a CIA analyst) and brings Ramius and his sub into U.S. custody. But only after single-handedly taking out the Soviet saboteur-assassin. Who is a cook, a position that would give him no access to any sensitive area of the sub. Ryan shoots him just before the saboteur can destroy the sub. But the saboteur has been alone on the sub for the past hour. Why wait until Ryan shows up?

Would you believe that Ryan speaks Russian? Don't they have translators at the CIA?

It's unlikely enough that the Russian sailors sing like they are the Moscow Synodal Choir. But the preposterous plot continues with Ramius intentionally steering the sub into a torpedo (with no damage), and a Russian sub blown up by its own torpedo. The Americans fire a torpedo within ten yards of the Red October, simply to pretend that they had actually blown it up.

Then there's the dialogue. The biggest groaner comes from the NSA director: "I'm a politician, which means I'm a cheat and a liar." Close behind is Borodin's speech: "I will live in Montana, and I will marry a round American woman, and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck!"

Dishonorable mention goes to the following lines:

For what it's worth, the Goofs page at imdb for this movie is the longest that I have ever seen. It would probably take less time to read the source Tom Clancy novel.