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The Hunt for Red October

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Some author's works, John Grisham's for example, are easily adapted to the big screen. Although many of Tom Clancy's novels have been successfully made into motion pictures, they are so intricately and carefully composed that keeping them within the confines of a standard length movie without disturbing their elaborate structure is tricky. Clancy, who is a stickler for absolute devotion to detail, painstakingly researches his books to ensure their accuracy and plausibility.

Clancy's first novel, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, started off his movie franchise in 1990. Screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart approached the material as assiduously as Clancy himself with the result being a screenplay that truly does justice to the book. Later screenwriters have been equally diligent in Clancy adaptations - although no one has ever attempted his complicated second novel, "Red Storm Rising" - but none have equaled the cinematic power of THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.

In his best performance ever, Alec Baldwin, an actor whose emotive range is highly limited, plays Tom Clancy's classic hero, Dr. Jack Ryan. (Harrison Ford was picked as a much more bankable star to do the follow-up films, and he is indeed a better Jack Ryan since he seems so much more vulnerable.) Jack's neither a spy nor a military man, per se, he just writes books for the CIA. But, like the everyman role so popular in movies from Capra to Hitchcock, he rises to the occasion when called. In Clancy stories, it's in the service of the entire United States that his hero is summoned. Adm. Jim Greer of the CIA, played with his usual forceful presence by James Earl Jones, is the one who appeals to Jack's sense of patriotism to attempt the impossible.

In THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER the Russians have invented a submarine so quiet that it is virtually undetectable - we are told that we tried to make this technology work but had no luck. This means the Russians could park subs just a few miles off our shore so that they can fire their nuclear missiles before we can retaliate. The boat's stealth makes it a first-strike weapon and hence feared by our military. On the maiden voyage of the first such invisible vessel, named the Red October, the captain slips away from both sides in the nuclear chess game. Is he defecting, is he lost, is he engaging in hostile maneuvers or what? The U.S. and the Russians distrust each other, and one of the best series of scenes has the political operatives of both sides engaging in boldfaced lies with each knowing the other is lying and yet not being quite sure what the real truth is.

As Capt. Marko Ramius, the clever skipper of the Red October, Sean Connery brings such perspicacity to the role that he sets Ramius at the head of the film's intellectual food chain. The characters, especially Jack, try to outguess him, but Ramius generally stays one step ahead of them.

The wonderfully intricate story asks many questions. What, for example, would Ramius do if he did defect? And, for a change, the story pays respect to all the military leaders. The usual idiots and megalomaniacs are thankfully absent.

Scott Glenn, who all too often gets such inferior roles as his recent disastrous one in FIRESTORM, plays an important one here as Capt. Bart Mancuso, the captain of the American sub tracking Ramius. Mancuso is a cool-headed skipper who's willing to take incredible risks in his war games with Ramius. Senator Fred Thompson plays another battle-wise American admiral.

The entire cast down to the smallest role is meticulously chosen. Courtney B. Vance is wonderful in the small part of the cocky but friendly sonar technician. He manages to hear the undetectable, proving once again that a persistent man can win in the battle against technology.

Tensions mount hard and fast as the Russians launch their entire Atlantic fleet to destroy the Red October. And the Americans aren't sure whether to save the sub or sink it. The story builds as the combatants try to out psyche each other.

The ever-bold Ramius sends a message to the Russian high command to reveal his intention to defect. This means that his fellow defectors are unable to abandon their plans to travel to the New World. "When he reached the New World, Cortes burned his ships." Ramius explains as his reasoning for revealing his strategy. "As a result his crew was well motivated."

Sam Neill, in a moving performance, plays Ramius's second in command, who has a simple dream of living in Montana and being able to travel from state to state in an recreational vehicle without a travel visa.

Cecelia Hall and George Watters, winners of the Academy Award that year for sound effects editing, gives the picture a heart-throbbing intensity and enough deep bass to blow your subwoofers. This is coupled with the beautiful and impressive underwater scenes of the big blue steel masses slinking by, all filmed handsomely by Jan de Bont, who would go on to direct TWISTER and both of the SPEED movies.

With its crisp editing by Dennis Virkler and John Wright, who were nominated for an Oscar, the picture maintains maximum sustained impact and tension. As we learned in the classic film DAS BOOT, there is no place of higher tension than the claustrophobic confines of a submarine.

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER runs 2:15 without a minute of fat. It is rated PG for tension and mild profanity and would be fine for kids around 9 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 9, thought it was a good movie. He said he especially liked Connery's acting and the way Jack Ryan was really smart. He admitted he did get a little bit confused by the story.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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