“THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” (1990) Review

red-october

 

“THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” (1990) Review

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an ardent reader of Tom Clancy’s novels. Many who know me would find this strange, considering my penchant for the movie adaptations of his stories. The first I ever saw was “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER”, the 1990 adaptation of Clancy’s 1984 novel of the same title.

The last remnants of the Cold War – at least the one between the United States and the Soviet Union – were being played out when “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” hit the screen. Realizing this, director John McTiernan, screenwriter Larry Ferguson (who also had a role in the film) and producer Mace Neufeld decided to treat Clancy’s story as a flashback by setting the movie in the year Clancy’s novel was published. The movie begins with the departure of the new Soviet submarine, the Red October, which possesses a new caterpillar drive that renders it silent. In command of the Red October is Captain Marko Ramius. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. Navy submarine called the U.S.S. Dallas has a brief encounter with the Red October before it loses contact due to the Soviet sub’s caterpillar drive. This encounter catches the attention of C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan, who embarks upon studying the Red October’s schematics.

Unbeknownst to the C.I.A., Captain Ramius has put in motion a plan for the defection of his senior officers and himself. They also intend to commit treason by handing over the Red October to the Americans. Unfortunately, Ramius has left a letter stating his intentions to his brother-in-law, a Soviet government official. This leads the Soviet ambassador in Washington D.C. to inform the Secretary of Defense that the Red October has been lost at sea and requires the U.S. Navy’s help for a “rescue mission”. However, Ryan manages to ascertain that Ramius plans to defect. When the Soviets change tactics and claim that Captain Ramius has become a renegade with plans to fire a missile at the U.S. coast, Ryan realizes that he needs to figure out “how” Ramius plans to defect before the Soviet or U.S. Navies can sink the Red October.

I might as well put my cards on the table. After twenty-three years, “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” holds up very well as a Cold War thriller. What prevented it from becoming a dated film were the filmmakers’ decision to treat Clancy’s tale as a flashback to the last decade of the Cold War. I have never read Clancy’s novel. In fact, I have only read two of his novels – “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”. Because of this, I could not judge the movie’s adaptation of the 1984 novel. But there is no doubt that “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” is a first-rate – probably superb thriller. Screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart made another first-rate contribution to the script by not rushing the narrative aspect of the story. The movie is not some fast-paced tale stuffed with over-the-top action. Yes, there is action in the film – mainly combat encounters, a murder, hazardous flying in a rain storm and a shoot-out inside the Red October’s engine room. And it is all exciting stuff. However, Ferguson and Stewart wisely detailed the conversations held between Ramius and his fellow defectors, Ryan’s attempts to figure out Ramius’ defection plans and his efforts to convince various high-ranking U.S. Naval officers not to accept the Soviets’ lies about the Red October’s captain.

“THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” also features some excellent performances. Sean Connery gave one of his best performances as the Red October’s enigmatic and wily captain, Markus Ramius. Alec Baldwin was equally impressive as the slightly bookish, yet very intelligent C.I.A. analyst, Jack Ryan. A part of me believes it is a pity that he never portrayed the role again. The movie also boasted fine performances from James Earl Jones as Ryan’s boss, C.I.A. Deputy Director James Greer; Scott Glenn as the intimidating captain of the U.S.S. Dallas, Bart Mancuso; Sam Neill as Ramius’ very loyal First Officer, Vasily Borodin; Fred Dalton Thompson as Rear Admiral Joshua Painter; Courtney B. Vance as the Dallas’ talented Sonar Technician, Ronald “Jonesy” Jones; Tim Curry as the Red October’s somewhat anxious Chief Medical Officer (and the only one not part of the defection) Dr. Yevgeniy Petrov; and Joss Ackland as Ambassador Andrei Lysenko. Stellan Skarsgård made a dynamic first impression for me as Viktor Tupolev, the Soviet sub commander ordered to hunt and kill Ramius. And Richard Jordan was downright entertaining as the intelligent and somewhat manipulative National Security Advisor Dr. Jeffrey Pelt. The movie also featured brief appearances from the likes of Tomas Arana, Gates McFadden (of “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”) and Peter Firth (of “SPOOKS”).

Before one starts believing that I view “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” as perfect, I must admit there were a few aspects of it that I found a bit troublesome for me. The movie has a running time of 134 minutes. Mind you, I do not consider this as a problem. However, the pacing seemed in danger of slowing down to a crawl two-thirds into the movie. It took the Dallas’ encounter with the Red October to put some spark back into the movie again. And could someone explain why Gates McFadden portrayed Ryan’s wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, with a slight British accent? Especially since she was an American-born character?

Despite these minor quibbles, “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” is a first-rate spy thriller that has withstood the test of time for the past 23 years. And I believe the movie’s sterling qualities own a lot to John McTiernan’s excellent direction, a well-written script by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart, and superb performances from a cast led by Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin.

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“WITHOUT A CLUE” (1988) Review

Below is my review of the 1988 Sherlock Holmes comedy called “WITHOUT A CLUE”:

”WITHOUT A CLUE” (1988) Review

With Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes movie due to be released in theaters this Christmas, I had decided to watch another Holmes film called ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Directed by Thom Eberhardt, the movie has the distinction of turning the Sherlock Holmes mythos on its ear by presenting a premise similar to the 1982-1986 NBC series, ”REMINGTON STEELE”.

Ben Kingsley portrayed Dr. John Watson, a late 19th century physician who had been forced to hide his talent as a criminal investigator by creating the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, while applying for a position at a conservative hospital. Watson failed to gain the position, but managed to solve a crime. To get close to the crimes that came under his notice and satisfy public demand to see Holmes in person, he hired an alcoholic unemployed actor named Reginald Kincaid – portrayed by Michael Caine – to play Holmes.

The movie opened with Watson and Kincaid helping the envious Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) and Scotland Yard solve an attempted robbery at a local London museum. By this time, Watson and Kincaid had been engaged in their deception for nearly a decade and the two have become increasingly weary of each other. But the disappearance of Bank of England £5 banknote printing plates and the printing supervisor Peter Giles (John Warner); along with the destruction of a paper mill by fire forced the pair to continue their deception once more. Their investigation led to a major counterfeiting case that threatened to disrupt the British Empire’s economy.

I suspect that ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be to everyone’s taste. The movie’s style of humor closely resembled that from the late Victorian/Edwardian music halls. Because of this, the humor ended up being considered flat or incomprehensible to some. I, on the other hand, loved ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Not only did I appreciate the director and screenwriters’ attempt to compliment the movie’s style with its late Victorian setting; I also liked the fact that the setting also embraced the movie’s style of humor and dialogue. To be honest, I suspect that the humor might be late 20th century, but presented in a late Victorian theatrical style.

More importantly, I feel that screenwriters Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther had created a first-rate story in which Watson and Kincaid set out to solve the disappearances of the banknote plates and Giles. The story is filled with exciting action that included two shootouts, a major fire, an attempted kidnapping, deception, attempted murder and murder. At least twenty minutes into the movie, the script revealed the perpetuator behind the story’s series of crimes. And yet, it still managed to deliver a number of surprises that proved to be both ominous and hilarious.

It seemed a shame that Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley had never worked together again (unless I am proven wrong). The two actors produced such a marvelous screen chemistry that left me in stitches. Caine’s sly and hilarious portrayal of the alcoholic and womanizing fake Sherlock Holmes seemed like a perfect contrast to Kingsley’s uptight and long-suffering Dr. Watson. The two leads were ably supported by the very American Jeffrey Jones, who portrayed the pretentious and envious Inspector Lestrade; Lysette Anthony as the resolute, yet passionate daughter of the missing Peter Giles; Pat Keen as Dr. Watson’s loyal and very proper housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson; Matthew Savage as Dr. Watson’s young and intelligent assistant and leader of the Baker Street Boys; and Nigel Davenport, who portrayed the very aristocratic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Smithwick. Paul Freeman, who became known as Indiana Jones’ arch-nemesis Rene Belloq, portrayed our heroes’ nemesis, the ruthless and intelligent Professor James Moriarty. What I especially enjoyed about Freeman’s performance was his elegant take on the role.

Although a fun and entertaining movie, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” does have its flaws. The movie’s Victorian style humor did come off as somewhat stagy in the first ten to fifteen minutes. This was especially apparent in the sequence that revealed Watson and Kincaid’s lifestyle at Watson’s home on Baker Street. At times, I felt as if I had been watching a stage play. And just before the final showdown, the pacing became so slow that it threatened to drag the movie. The heroes had just suffered a major setback in the case. They spent the period leading up to the finale, trying to figure out their next move. Despite this segment’s short running time, the movie’s slow pacing during this period nearly led me to fall asleep.

As I had earlier stated, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be for everyone. Some may not appreciate both director Thom Eberhardt and the screenwriters’ efforts to blend its Victorian setting a music hall style humor. However, I found the humor both sly and hilarious. And along with some great action, a story filled with plenty of twists and a first-rate cast led by Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, I would highly recommend it.

“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Here is my review of the 2001 comedy, “HEARTBREAKERS”, about a mother-daughter pair who happened to be grifters:

“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Directed by David Mirkin, ”HEARTBREAKERS” is a romantic comedy caper about an elaborate con set up by a mother-daughter team to swindle wealthy men out of their money, and what happens during their “last” con together. This 2001 comedy starred Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love-Hewitt as the mother-daughter pair, along with Gene Hackman and Ray Liotta as their wealthy marks.

The movie begins with Max and Page Connors (Weaver and Love-Hewitt) conning an auto-body shop owner and small time crook named Dean Cumanno (Liotta). The con, which is implied has been done a number of times before on other men, involves Max marrying Dean, passing out on their wedding night to avoid consummating the marriage, and then Page (posing as Dean’s secretary) luring Dean into a compromising position to justify Max’s immediate divorce and hefty settlement. Following the success of this con, Page decides that she wants her half of their money before going solo. Max relents, but the two learn from an I.R.S. agent (Anne Bancroft) that that they owe the government a considerable sum on top of the rest of their savings, which have already been seized. Page reluctantly agrees to work together with Max on one last con in Palm Beach (which would result in enough money to pay off the I.R.S. and set Page up to work on her own). For their target, they choose widower William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), a tobacco millionaire and chain smoker who is addicted to his own product. Complicating matters is beachfront bartender named Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), whom Page meets without her mother’s knowledge, while attempting to go after another target on her own.

Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; who wrote the screenplay for ”HEARTBREAKERS”, were also responsible for movies like ”THE LITTLE RASCALS” and ”LIAR, LIAR”. But quite frankly, those two movies were chopped liver as far as I am concerned in compare to ”HEARTBREAKERS”. The movie’s story struck me as sly, witty and absolutely hilarious. Page’s romance with Jack; along with Max and Dean’s love stories were romantic and at the same time, sharp and unsentimental. Max’s attempts to seduce William Tensy, while impersonating a Russian expatriate featured some of the most hilarious moments in the movie – especially a particularly biting sequence that featured the Connors’ dealings with Tensy’s hard-nosed and grasping maid, portrayed by Nora Dunn. Between Tensy’s smoking and pallor and Max’s ordeal in being forced to consume steak tartare, this movie has put me off smoking and raw beef for all eternity. And if the Connors’ misadventures with Tensy were not bad enough, emotions jump a few notches when Dean arrives in Palm Beach in search of Max. It seems that he was really in love with her . . . and she has admitted to having feelings for him. Much to Page’s disgust.

It is not simply the script for ”HEARTBREAKERS” that had me in stitches. Weaver and Love Hewitt lead a first-rate cast that was just as funny as the script. Weaver (deservedly) earned a Golden Satellite Awards nomination as the elegant and quick-thinking Max. However, Love Hewitt matched her in screen presence and comedic skills as the equally intelligent, yet brusque Page. For once Ray Liotta’s intensity came into comedic use as Max’s faux husband, auto shop owner Dean Cummano whose love for the grafter/mother refuses to die, despite his discovery that Max and Page had conned him. Anne Bancroft gave a sly performance as Barbara aka Gloria Vogel, the I.R.S. agent who turned out to be Max’s mentor . . . and the woman who had stolen Max and Page’s bank funds. And of course, there was Gene Hackman, who played the chain smoking William Tensy. I loved his portrayal of the self-absorbed and caustic tobacco magnate. I could tell that he was truly enjoying himself. The only hiccup in this first-rate cast turned out to be Jason Lee. He played Jack Withrowe, the bartender who turned out to be owner of a beachfront bar and minor millionaire. Actually, the problem was not Lee’s performance. It was the writers’ portrayal of him. Quite frankly, Jack was a rather dull boy – a character unworthy of the talented and usually funny Lee. Not even the so-called one-liners they fed the character could not overcome his dullness.

”HEARTBREAKERS” turned out to be another example of a caper film featuring grifters that I find enjoyable. It had a first-rate plot, hilarious and complex characters (with the exception of Lee’s character), delicious scenery featuring Palm Beach and Southern California (standing in as Palm Beach) and a catchy score written by John Debney and Emmanuel Kiriakou. Director David Mirkin was given all of this – some at the last moment – and created comedy magic with it.