THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Directed by John McTiernan; written by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart; produced by Mace Neufeld for Paramount. Starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. Rated PG.
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High style, high tech, high gloss—that's Red October in a nutshell. The only ingredient missing, at least in adequate quantities, is high suspense. But the movie's still entertaining, in large part because it's loaded with a cast, top to bottom, that's fun to watch.
They do a remarkable job, actually, since none of their characters are very well-developed. They have all the looks and motions down so well, we don't mind too much that there's little substance behind them.
A lot of people already know the plot to the movie, since it's adapted from Tom Clancy's novel, which sold boatloads of copies. but in case you haven't read it, I won't say much about the story. I'd hate to spoil what little suspense this largely predictable movie generates.
It is about submarines, one Russian sub in particular, the "Red October" of the title. Her captain is Ramius (Connery), and she is enough of a techno-wonder to have the big American brass plenty worried about first-strike capabilities.
Red October, incidentally, takes great pains to point out that its action takes place just before Gorbachev takes power in the USSR, reassuring us that its creators aren't some of those hawkish types longing for the good old cold war days.
Baldwin plays CIA analyst Ryan, who's an expert on Soviet navy hardware and personnel. Although they don't have much screen time together, Ryan and Ramius each hold the focus of their particular side of the story very skillfully, and in a balanced way. Pretty high praise for relative newcomer Baldwin, not to be upstaged by James Bond himself.
The crowded supporting cast is all good, too. But in spite of all these people's best efforts, the movie just doesn't measure up to Run Silent, Run Deep, and those other classic World War II submarine movies. Or at least to how I remember them.
Perhaps it's because the plot is much more complex. Maybe all the gee-whiz! technology is just too overwhelming. Or maybe the whole style of the movie is just too slick. But in spite of its undeniable entertainment value, and except for a few scenes, mostly toward the end, Red October never does properly take off as an adventure yarn.
March 14, 1990
21st century revision: I don't know what movie I saw in 1990, but I now consider Red October a real treat and I've seen it several times. Not suspenseful?! What was I thinking!? Now when I re-watch it I revel in the characters...so many great actors. And I love the music, those Russian choruses. The end is something I especially try to catch when it's on TV: "Welcome to the New World!" Gives me goosebumps every time.