Saturday, January 04, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Hunt For Red October (1990) ****

PG, 134 min.
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Larry Ferguson, Donald Stewart, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Courtney B. Vance, Tim Curry, Joss Ackland, Richard Jordan, Peter Firth, Stellen Skarsgård, Jeffrey Jones, Timothy Carhart, Larry Ferguson, Fred Dalton Thompson, Daniel Davis, Ned Vaughn, Anthony Peck

Later this month Jack Ryan returns to the big screen in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. Over the next couple of weeks I will return to the four previous films featuring this original CIA action hero. I say “original” because Ryan has never really been an “action” action hero. He’s an analyst, and the franchise has always been pretty good about emphasizing this fact about the character. I fear the new movie will turn him into a full-blown action hero.

We were first introduced to this bookworm hero who is afraid of flying in the excellent submarine thriller “The Hunt for Red October”. The producers tapped Alec Baldwin, who was untested in an action movie, which made him perfect for Ryan. He’s always been my favorite Jack Ryan. Baldwin has only recently expressed his disappointment that he did not return to the role that would be taken over by the surer box office star Harrison Ford only two years later in the film “Patriot Games”.

Without a proven action star in the leading role, the studio felt the need to emphasize what type of movie this was with its choice of director and co-star. John McTiernan had the action pedigree with the original “Predator” and “Die Hard” under his belt. “Red October” was a bit more serious in its subject matter than the director had handled before, but he was at the top of the game in 1990.

For the co-star Paramount tapped Sean Connery, who came under fire for his famous Scottish brogue in the scenes where he didn’t speak Russian. McTiernan developed a rather simply ingenious way of allowing the Russians to speak English, and having the actors speak with a Russian accent could’ve gotten messy. Connery is hardly the only actor playing a Russian here who used his natural accent. The truth is Connery’s presence grounds the film, making it easy for a western audience to accept and understand Captain Ramius’ choices.

As a submarine thriller, “Red October” is one of the best. Seeped in the politics of The Cold War only a couple of years before it ended, Tom Clancy’s book of the same name provides a story of tension and mystery where there are no real bad guys but has a real sense of the stakes that were always at risk during the nuclear threat. There are some genuine thrills in it, but its strength lies in the fact that the characters feel the full weight of the ramifications of their actions. It’s one of those movies that you want to say about, “They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

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