When I went into see CRIMSON TIDE, I knew it had a lot going for
it. I had seen the trailers which were charged with excitement. I
knew it had one of my absolute favorite stars in Denzel Washington and
with another favorite in Gene Hackman. The story appeared to be a Tom
Clancy style military thriller. All this notwithstanding, I was not
adequately prepared for what was to unfold in front of me. This show
Going into the movie, I was already prejudiced. I knew it was
about some Russians threatening to launch nuclear missiles at the US.
In the post-Cold War era, I felt it would be hard to worry about that
anymore and so the axiom the movie was built upon would have
questionable credibility. From the first CNN scenes in CRIMSON TIDE of
Russia fighting a civil war in one of their breakaway republics and
then Russian nationalists taking over part of the military, I realized
how close this was to the real news reports from over there that we are
all naively been ignoring. The rebel leader looked just like the real
live Russian nationalist and demagogue Vladimir Zhirinovsky who has
indeed threatened the West with nuclear weapons if he ever got into
In CRIMSON TIDE, the Russian rebels have taken over some of
Russia's nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles and some of their
subs. The US navy dispatches our subs to the Pacific. This movie
takes place almost totally aboard the USS Alabama skipper by seasoned
Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman). Ramsey chooses Lt. Commander Ron
Hunter (Denzel Washington) as his executive officer since his current
XO has appendicitis. Ramsey is hell on wheels. He eats XOs for
breakfast and has been through a half dozen in the past year his
officers tell Hunter.
Well, as you have seen in the trailers, the rebels get the code to
launch, some confusion sets in, and the top officers lock horns. More
than that I will not tell you. You will have to endure the suspense
yourself. If you have a weak heart or suffer from hypertension, you
should be require to get a release from your physician before being
There is so much excellent about this picture it is hard to know
where to begin. The four best parts, and all were equally superb, were
the acting of the two leads, the directing, and the intense
Let me deal first with the acting. I would be happy to see both
stars get Oscar nominations, but Washington was the best. His piercing
stares when angry were almost lethal. His every scene was compelling.
His part was tricky. It would be easy to overplay it whereas
Washington plays it quiet reserved but with absolute authority. He is
openly vulnerable and yet has tremendous courage and convictions. The
audience becomes one with Hunter, and the identification with him
Hackman has the harder part, and he is match for it. Ramsey is an
extremely demanding skipper who feels that he must push his men to the
limit. Hackman plays Ramsey in a way that you never hate him even when
he becomes the bad guy. Hackman makes you doubt who is right and who
is wrong no matter the logic of the script. Two tour de force
performances by both.
Although this was really a two person play, it was populated with
many interesting minor characters (Lillo Brancato, Rocky Carroll, Matt
Craven, James Gandolfini, Jaime Gomez, Michael Milhoan, Viggo
Mortensen, Rick Schroder). My favorite was Cob (George Dzundza) who
was shown as Ramsey's right hand man at the start of the movie.
Dzundza made a minor part with few lines say a lot.
The directing by Tony Scott was to give us a movie that was at a
fever pitch from start to finish. Scott has shown in previous movies
(TOP GUN, DAYS OF THUNDER, and BEVERLY HILLS COP II) that he could do
this but only in spurts in a show. Here this movie is about to explode
it is so hot and this intensity stays from the very start until, but
not including the epilogue.
The most surprising part is the character development by the
director and somewhat by the screenwriter (Michael Schiffer). This is
not merely an action thriller a la SPEED or TRUE LIES; this is a
character study reminiscent of THE CAINE MUTINY. The life aboard a
submarine was as realistic as DAS BOOT thanks to great set decoration
by Michael White, but the lead characters here were much more alive and
interesting. Actually, the movie that comes to mind immediately is THE
HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but CRIMSON TIDE is much better. Scott had me
griping the seat most of the film. Almost like the experience I had
when I saw ALIENS for the first time.
The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (who did THE CROW) has to win
an Oscar. Watch the initial scenes in a torrential downpour as Ramsey
addresses his crew football coach style. The luminescent steel gray
rain covering up the sailors so they became almost eerie ghosts was one
good example. The spray of the sub as it dove was another. The best
however was the way the camera created and enhanced tension by extreme
close-ups inside the sub. Watch the harsh light providing strong
contrast to the shadows aboard ship. Words can not describe the
overall effect he was able to create. Finally, the music, especially
the religious piece song by a chorus at the start and the conclusion
was very moving and effective.
For a show I loved so much, I do have exactly two criticisms.
First, the epilogue was unnecessary, and if they felt the need to have
one, this was not the one. It had the appearance of being added by
someone in the marketing department who wanted to soften the picture to
improve its box office take. Make like the epilogue was not there; I
did. On a more minor note, the screenwriter looses control and gives
one character some cliched racist lines to say in one scene that are
not in character and are not of the same intelligent writing quality of
the rest of the script.
Choose a theater with the biggest screen and the best sound system
in your town, and go early and get a good seat. Don't wait for video.
You want to see this show in all of its glory - upfront and personal.
Be sure and go to the restroom in advance. You do not want to miss a
minute of this show.
CRIMSON TIDE runs 1:53, and there is not a wasted minute in it.
It is rated R for quite mild violence and a little bad language. It
would be fine for anyone able to watch an intense thriller. I actually
think kids 10 and over would love it. This is a **** picture in my
book, and it is my first top ranked film in a half a year since I try
to be very careful with my highest ratings. See this movie now before
it migrates to the smaller screens. Don't miss it!
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes