The Hunt For Red October

The Hunt For Red October (1990) Director: John McTiernan


The Hunt For Red October, the first film in the Jack Ryan film franchise and the fourth book in Tom Clancy’s “Ryanverse” novel series, is an excellent white-knuckling submarine thriller of deep-sea espionage. It is a classic of high stakes political brinkmanship. Coming off the backs of 1987’s Predator and 1988’s Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October was John McTiernan’s last classic film before a string of mostly forgettable movies and his impending legal troubles.

The story takes place in 1984 during the Cold War (two days after the film was released in 1990 Boris Yeltsin came to power and marked the collapse of the Soviet Union). In the film, the Soviets have developed a nuclear submarine capable of operating without being traced by sonar. Captain Marko Ramius (brilliantly played by Sean Connery) has gone rogue from the Soviet Union and intends to defect to the Americans. The only person who seems keen to the plot is a low-level CIA Analyst named Jack Ryan (played by a young Alec Baldwin). He attempts to persuade the American government that the “Red October” submarine (so-named for the communist October Revolution) is actually planning to defect rather than lead a first strike. Can he persuade the government to help Captain Ramius rather than attack him? We are offered the perspectives of both sides in this delightful thriller. In one of the more unique moments in the film, the camera slowly pans into Sean Connery speaking Russian and suddenly pauses and pns back as his language changes to English. I was struck by this remarkable use of cinematography to showcase both the authenticity of his dialect as well as a nod to the audience that we will now understand the words of Captain Ramius in our native tongue.

Meanwhile, the Soviets launch their Navy in search of the rogue submarine to destroy it before it can defect. Their ambassador lies to the American government by claiming the captain of the Red October has gone mad and intends to attack the United States. Thus the Americans, knowing this is false, nevertheless must expand their operation in search of the submarine to placate the Soviets. It is a wonderful plot device employed in which the audience knows the full story on both sides, but the characters must lie to one another in order to maintain the facade of global peace. Jack Ryan is covertly sent out to the mid-Atlantic where he helps locate the Red October, but trouble is also brewing aboard the Red October. One of the crewmen (later revealed to be the cook) has sabotaged his own ship to prevent Captain Ramius from defecting. In the end Jack Ryan and a cohort of American military officers board the Red October, while its unsuspecting crew are rescued by the Americans, and a deep sea submarine battle ensues with the Soviets accidentally torpedoing themselves thanks to clever maneuvering far below the surface. The Soviets believe the Red October has been terminated, but now they have lost another submarine, and in the end Jack Ryan and Ramius hide the Red October in a river in Maine. Ramius hails his new home where he has been granted asylum and he quotes Christopher Columbus: “And the sea will grant each man new hope; as sleep brings dreams of home.”

Along with a brilliant script and wonderful camera work, the score for this film by Basil Poledouris is also notable, playing on various Soviet-era triumphant nationalistic hymns. The Hunt For Red October is also a well cast film. Not only with the confident madness of Sean Connery and the young yet accurately bumbling performance of Alec Baldwin, the film also features top notch performances from James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgård, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Curry, Joss Ackland, Sam Neill and others. I thought this was a terrific movie, likely my favorite of the Jack Ryan series.

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