“THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER” (1990) Review

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“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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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

Following the success of the 2007 movie, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, Universal Pictures announced its intentions to release a fourth movie featuring the amnesiac CIA assassin, Jason Bourne. However, their plans nearly folded when actor Matt Damon announced that he would not do a fourth movie.

Damon’s announcement failed to put a final kibosh on Universal’s plans. Instead, the studio and writer-director Tony Gilroy went ahead with another movie about the CIA assassination programs in which Jason Bourne had participated. Instead of bringing back director Paul Greengrass, Universal and Gilroy (who had written the first three movies) hired Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner to portray a second CIA assassin – Aaron Cross. With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the results led to the fourth movie called “THE BOURNE LEGACY”.

The movie’s title came from Eric Van Lustbader’s 2004 novel, but its plot is completely different. “THE BOURNE LEGACY” introduced a third black ops program called Operation Outcome. Unlike Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome was specifically created by the U.S. Department of Defense and it enhances the physical and mental abilities of field operatives through pills referred to as “chems”. The movie opens with one of its operatives – Aaron Cross – engaged in a training assignment in Alaska. After Cross traverses rugged terrain to a remote cabin, he meets its operator, an exiled Outcome operative, Number Three.

During Cross’ time in Alaska, the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs are publicly being exposed (during the events of the previous film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”), leading the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, Treadstone clinical researcher Dr. Albert Hirsch and CIA Director Ezra Kramer. Kramer requests help from Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations. Byer, who had originally recruited Cross, discovers potentially damaging video on the Internet in which the lead researchers for Treadstone and Outcome – especially Hirsch – appear at professional functions in public. To prevent the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation from finding and revealing Outcome’s top-secret scientific advances, Byer decides to end Outcome and kill its agents and medical personnel. He sees this sacrifice as acceptable because the government has already separately initiated next-generation “beta programs”.

Byer attempts to kill both Cross and Number Three by sending a drone bomb to destroy the cabin. Number Three is killed and Cross manages to survive, due to being outside when the bomb dropped. Byer makes another attempt to kill Cross with a second drone and unbeknownst to him, ends up killing a wolf pack. Cross learns of a massacre at Outcome’s private research lab, conducted by a chemically brainwashed scientist. The sole survivor is geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing, whom Cross later saves from CIA assassins. He hopes that Dr. Shearing can help him wean or “viral” off the chemicals and at the same time, save both of them from being killed by Byer and the Department of Defense.

When Universal first leaked news of a fourth movie with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I did not exactly embrace the idea. As far as I was concerned, three was enough. When Damon announced that he would not reprise the Bourne role, I felt a surge of relief. As much as I had enjoyed the third BOURNE movie, I felt it was a bit of a comedown after the first two movies. Then I heard news that Universal and Tony Gilroy was going ahead with a fourth movie . . . without Damon. Again, I dismissed the idea of going to see this new BOURNE movie, until I learned that Jeremy Renner had been cast in the lead. Since I am a fan of Renner’s, I decided to go see this fourth film. However, I did not believe I would enjoy it as much as the first three.

Like the previous three movies, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” is not perfect. One, I never understood the need for Tony Gilroy to create a third black ops program for the franchise. Considering that Treadstone and the current Blackbriar programs were in danger of exposure by the end of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, I was surprised that Gilroy did not simply make Cross a Blackbriar operative. In other words, I found the addition of a third black ops program rather irrelevant. Unfortunately, the movie also featured the continuing presence of CIA Director Ezra Kramer. His presence in the third movie struck me as writing blooper on Gilroy’s part. His presence in this fourth movie is a continuation of that blooper. For some reason, Gilroy decided to utilize Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam style of filming . . . much to my annoyance. My biggest problem with “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was the ending. I found it vague, rather sudden and anti-climatic. When the movie ended with Cross and Dr. Shearing somewhere in the South China Seas and Pamela Lundy in trouble with Federal authorities for revealing the details of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, the first words that left my mouth were “Is that it?”. As far as I was concerned, the BOURNE franchise required a fifth movie to tie up the loose plots.

Despite the ending, despite the continuing presence of Ezra Kramer and despite the Greengrass filming and editing style; I enjoyed “THE BOURNE LEGACY” very much. Who am I kidding? I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I would rank it second of the four movies. I feel that Gilroy did a slightly better job of meshing the plot from “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” with this film, than meshing the third film with the second one, “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. A throwaway discussion between Kramer and Noah Vosen regarding Pamela Lundy in the third film finally came to fruition by the end of this movie. The movie also explored – during most of its 135 minutes – Cross’ difficulties in dealing with his dependency upon the “chems”. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include Cross’ use of the wolf pack to distract the second drone bomb from himself, the massacre at the Operation Outcome lab that featured a chilling performance by Željko Ivanek, and the long chase sequence in Manila, the Philippines. But my favorite sequence featured Cross’ rescue of Dr. Shearing from the CIA assassins.

The best thing that Tony Gilroy ever did for this movie was to avoid making Aaron Cross into a Jason Bourne 2.0. He did this by creating Cross as a completely personality – verbose, more extroverted and an acute judge of character. But what really made Cross worked as a character was Jeremy Renner’s performance. Some critic once said that what was the point in watching a BOURNE movie without Matt Damon. Well, the first BOURNE production I ever saw was the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. And he was great. I also enjoyed Damon as Bourne, but . . . honestly? I did not really miss him, due to Renner’s performance.

The movie also benefited from Rachel Weisz’s excellent performance as Operation Outcome medical researcher, Dr. Marta Shearing. Weisz’s Shearing was a quiet, intense personality, whose ordered life was thrown upside down by her brainwashed colleague and later, the CIA. Weisz was exceptional in the scene featuring the CIA assassins’ murder attempt on her. More importantly, the actress and Renner proved to have a superb and somewhat humorous screen chemistry. Another excellent performance came from Edward Norton, who portrayed the ex-Air Force colonel Eric Byer. What I liked about Norton’s performance was that he portrayed Byer without the occasional frantic behavior that marked David Strathairn or Chris Cooper’s performances. Stacy Keach, whom I have not seen in several years, portrayed a high ranking Federal official named Mark Turso. I cannot recall ever seeing him in a villainous role (at least not to my knowledge), but I must admit that I found his performance very impressive. Oscar Isaac, whom I last saw in “W.E.” and “ROBIN HOOD”, gave an effective and subtle performance as the other Outcome agent, Number Three. It was nice to see Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney again. But they were not on the screen long enough for me to judge their performances.

Like I had earlier stated, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was not perfect. But I did enjoy it very much. And I am happy to announce that Universal has recently decided to green light a fifth film with Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Aaron Cross. His performance, along with Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast, made this movie very enjoyable for me, along with a script that I believe was slightly better than the first and third movies. I only hope that the fifth movie will prove to be just as entertaining.

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” marked the adaptation of author Robert Ludlum’s last novel about the amnesiac CIA agent/assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Considering that the first two movies – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” (2004) – barely resembled the novels from which they were adapted. one can honestly say the same about “ULTIMATUM”. Most diehard fans of the novels would obviously be upset over these loose adaptations. But since I am not a big fan, it did not really bother me. But this last movie did continue the saga that began in the first movie. And in a surprising way.

Before I saw the movie, I had heard rumors that production on it began at least six months after the events of “SUPREMACY”. The rumor turned out to be slightly false. The majority of the movie was set six weeks after the 2004 film.  The first scene, which began in Moscow, occurred after Bourne had killed Marie Kreutz’s murderer Krill during a high speed chase and apologized to Irena Neski for murdering her parents. Then the story jumped another six weeks. But screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns managed to plant a surprise within three-quarters into the film that has strong connections to“SUPREMACY”‘s final scene in New York City.

As for the rest of the movie, it turned out to be high-octane action thriller and mystery. Upon his arrival in Paris by train, Bourne reads an article that revealed his past – including his relationship with Marie – and his connections to Treadstone. The article also exposured a new CIA assassination program called “Blackbriar”. Realizing that the reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) of THE GUARDIAN might have a source within the C.I.A., Bourne heads for London and attempts to help the reporter evade capture and possible death at the hands of a Blackbriar assassin named Paz (Edgar Ramirez). Bourne fails to save Ross and he spends the rest of the film tracking down the journalist’s source – a CIA section chief named Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton). He also has to deal with a paronoid C.I.A. Deputy Director official named Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who wants Daniels dead for treason. Vosen also wants Bourne dead, because of the latter’s suppresssed knowledge of the Treadstone program and the Blackbriar programs. Along the way, Bourne acquires the help of former Treadstone handler, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and C.I.A. Deputy Director, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who finds herself working with Vosen to track him down.

There were three sequences that I found well-written and very exciting:

*Bourne’s attempts to keep Ross alive in London.

*Bourne and Nicky’s adventures in Tangiers, while dealing with Blackbriar assasin Desh (Joey Ansah).

*Bourne’s memories of his true self’s [David Webb] decision to become a Treadstone assassin.

I found a good deal of Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi’s screenplay rather excellent. And I have to take my hat off to the writers for creating an exciting script. But . . . I have to point out a few flaws. One – what happened to C.I.A. Director Marshall (Tomas Arana) from the previous film? According to the 2007 movie, C.I.A. Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) had approved of the new Blackbriar program. But the Blackbriar program was first introduced by Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) in the first film. Only Marshall could have approved to jump start the program, not Kramer. Two, Nicky Parsons had claimed that she and Bourne had shared a past . . . in Paris. I found this claim rather startling, considering that the previous movies had never hinted of any romance between the two. The only past that Nicky and Bourne could have shared was one between handler and assassin in Paris, along with his interrogation of her in Berlin.  The action in the movie’s first 45 minutes occurred a little too fast for my tastes and with very little breaks. I think Greengrass and Gilroy seemed bent upon speeding up the movie’s pacing just a little too unnecessarily. And three, the final scene featured fugitive Nicky Parsons learning about the exposure of the Blackbriar and Treadstone assassin programs on the news . . . and the arrests of Vosen, Kramer and psychologist Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney). Frankly, I found this conclusion unrealistic. Yes, one can consider it a crowd pleaser, but there is no way on earth the C.I.A. would allow its dirty secrets (at least recent ones) to be aired on any national news program. And I doubt that Landy would have sent Vosen’s secret files to the media – not if she wants to maintain her career at the agency. Chances are the C.I.A. would have suppressed news of the black-ops programs and killed Vosen, Hirsch and Kramer discreetly.

As for the acting – well it was top notch as usual. In what turned out to be his last “BOURNE” film (so far), Damon made the Jason Bourne [David Webb] role as his own. Julia Stiles continued to prove, as she had done in “SUPREMACY” that she and Damon have great screen chemistry . . . despite the discomfort and awkwardness between the two characters. This awkwardness came about Bourne’s revelation of his distaste of his role as an assassin and a scene in which Nicky changed her appearance, dredging up memories of Marie doing the same in the first film. Joan Allen’s portrayal of Pamela Landy was marvelous as usual. In fact, I believe that her performance in this movie was a minor improvement over the second film. Edgar Ramirez gave an intriguing performance as Blackbriar assassin Paz. Paddy Considine was effectively paranoid as the doomed reporter Simon Ross. And both David Strathairn and Albert Finney proved to be remarkably creepy and unpleasant. Although I believe that Strathairn was as good as Brian Cox, I found him to be an improvement over the slightly over-the-top Chris Cooper (as Alexander Conklin).  Somewhat.  He had his moments of being overly dramatic.

Paul Greengrass’ direction seemed top notch. But I have one major complaint. I had barely tolerated Greengrass’ handheld photography in “SUPREMACY”. In “ULTIMATUM”, my toleration nearly went down with the Titanic. I almost had a headache dealing with the shaky camera work. My other complaint deals with this movie’s rendition of Moby’s song, “Extreme Ways”. Quite frankly, I hated it. I hated Moby’s new updated version of it and wish that the producers had stuck with the old one.

Despite some of these changes, the hand held photography and what I believe were flaws in the script, “ULTIMATUM” proved to be just as exciting as the first two movies. And together, Damon, Greengrass, Kilroy, along with Doug Liman and Universal Pictures created a first-rate movie trilogy and franchise.