The Hunt for Red October was Tom Clancy’s first published novel, and it gained immense popularity. Which makes it no surprise that, in 1990, director John Mctiernan released the film adaptation under the same name. And this film was brilliant. By making perfect casting decisions with Sean Connery, Alex Baldwin, Sam Neill – even Tim Curry – and combining those actors with brilliant directing, music, and Tom Clancy’s writing, the film became a hit. I’m going to show you why it remains one now.
The Hunt for Red October is nail-biting thriller with a healthy dose of action and political intrigue thrown in. Set in the year 1984, the film follows two protagonists: Captain Marko Ramius (Connery) and Jack Ryan (Baldwin). Ramius is a Russian Captain given command of a new Russian submarine, the Red October, at the beginning of the film. The Red October has new ‘Caterpillar’ drives that work in lieu of the main propellers to render the submarine undetectable to sonar. Upon reading the orders with the ship’s Political Officer to conduct exercises with an ally submarine, Ramius kills the officer and claims his death was an accident, burning the orders and replacing them with his own – they are to sail to the East coast of America to conduct missile drills. Upon realizing that they have detached themselves from the government, the majority of the Russian fleet moves into action to find the Red October.
Meanwhile, Jack Ryan, CIA analyst, gets word that the Red October has just left port, learns of the Caterpillar drives, and briefs the Government’s National Security Adviser and his staff of Joint Chiefs. During this briefing they panic, believing that Ramius has gone rogue - especially after learning of the Russian fleet movements.Ryan, however, states the possibility that, rather than attack, Ramius is trying to defect to America. Initially not taken seriously, the National Security Adviser gives him 3 days to find Ramius and discover what his plan is – 3 days until the US Navy will hunt down the Red October. This leads Ryan on a race against time to discover Ramius’ true intentions; a hunt across the pacific, and for Red October.
The acting in The Hunt for Red October is phenomenal, with all actors bringing forth their A-game to deliver astounding and believable performances. Sean Connery manages to pin down the Russian accent (with a wee bit of Scottish still apparent in some instances) and hold it while conveying a variety of emotions across the film. He portrays the character of Captain Ramius perfectly, emitting vibes of cool, calm intellect in even the most desperate situations. A scene where this is clear is when he informs his senior staff that he sent a letter to Moscow detailing their intentions to defect. He says it as an off-hand comment, providing stark contrast while casually eating a meal as his staff begin to panic. This scene alone defines the character that Connery is playing – a man who’s confident, knows exactly what he’s doing, and has every angle planned out. This made Ramius as a character easy to sympathize with, especially in his cause of going against his country.
Jack Ryan, while not as rounded a character through the acting as Ramius, is another believable addition to the story, and Alec Baldwin successfully makes him so. He comes off as the character who is never really given much appreciation for his work, despite his level of expertise. While Baldwin manages to show this side of his character, there isn’t much variety in the range of emotions at his disposal. Granted, there is the scene where he snaps back at one of the Joint Chiefs for patronizing him, with Baldwin speaking quietly while maintaining a stern and forceful tone. This comes just after a burst of excitement when he realizes that Ramius might in fact plan to defect, and the difference between the two emotions is well-balanced. This scene definitely sets up Baldwin’s character for the rest of the movie as driven and unstoppable, risking his life to prove another man’s innocence. His acting, while sometimes not as varied as this scene, still works incredibly well within the context of the film and his character.
Sam Neill is probably my favorite character in the movie. His character, Vasily Borodin, is Ramius’ Executive Officer, and as such has fierce loyalty to his commanding officer and friend. As the film progresses and the crew’s unease with Ramius’ plans becomes clear, Borodin finds himself caught between the bickering of the crew and his loyalty to Ramius. What’s interesting to watch is how this concept of being on both sides slowly breaks down his character, to the point where it climaxes with him throwing a crewman against the wall for saying “The man (Ramius) will get us all killed.” This character is my favorite because of his link between the crew and the Captain, and it’s interesting to explore how he takes on both parties’ differing views on the events in the film. Sam Neill, with his subtle facial expressions, mannerisms and well-delivered dialogue, really brings Borodin to life as my favorite supporting character – possibly my favorite character overall.
Director John McTiernan did a fantastic job directing this film. He uses a range of camera angles, musical cues, dynamic lighting and sound design to influence the different themes present through the film. My favorite scene that captures the essence of the rest of the movie is the opening scene with Sean Connery and Sam Neill. Using extended scenic shots of the departing landscape to contrast the extreme close-up of Connery’s eyes shows his hardened expression as he leaves his homeland behind. His first few lines consist largely of Neill’s own lines, just slowly repeated. The silence emphasizes these lines even more, especially when Connery responds to Neill’s line “It’s time, Captain,” with “It’s time… Time indeed…” The delivery of this line is powerful, and indicates Ramius’ anticipation of what they do next – they must steal the Red October. After this line the camera floats back to show them standing on the Red October, with a swell of Russian-themed music in crescendo until the Red October is finally in view, upon which the music reaches a powerful fortissimo. This majesty with which the Red October opens the film is central to the overall theme, and the opening minutes captures this perfectly. Another standout scene is the transition from a Russian-speaking opening to English – by zooming in on the Political Officer’s mouth as he speaks in Russian, he switches to English on the word ‘Armageddon’ (which is the same in both languages). This allows for the audience to watch the film without subtitles and suspend disbelief by implying they are still speaking Russian, and we are just hearing it translated. Just brilliant.
With an incredibly strong cast, excellent writing, and fantastic directing, The Hunt for Red October combines all the elements of film into one brilliant movie that I highly recommend. All of the primary actors, and even those supporting, deliver solid performances that create believable characters in a tense and exciting story. While it might not look like the best movie after 23 years, it still holds up incredibly well, which says a lot for its cinematography at the time. Again, I highly recommend watching The Hunt for Red October. It is an exciting film that I could watch again and again, and it will never disappoint.
- Strong story
- Solid acting
- Great directing
- Satisfying and climactic ending!
Suitability: For ages 12/13 and up, some violence, political themes and story might be a little confusing for younger children
Replay Value: High
Disclaimer: Pictures taken from onsecrethunt.com, 2flashgames.com, grouchoreviews.com, and dimland.blogspot.com.au