Running time: 135 min.
Release date: March 2, 1990
Tom Clancy's best-selling novel The Hunt for Red October gets the big screen treatment, with director John McTiernan at the helm. Prior to this film, McTiernan was known for such muscle-bound action films such as Predator and Die Hard. McTiernan doesn't flex as much physical muscle here as he tries to rely more on technology and building suspense. For the most part, it works but it also relies on the performances of the central characters. The end result is a solid effort that suffers a little from over plotting.
Sean Connery plays Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius, a lifer in the Russian navy. Our first glimpse of him comes in a close-up of his old, worn eyes. It's a cold, hard landscape according to Ramius, but he may be referring to the Cold War itself. He is commanding a new class of submarine that contains a type of drive that renders it undetectable to sonar. His orders are to conduct exercises with another Russian sub, but he and members of his crew have other plans. Political officer Ivan Putin (Peter Firth) is aboard, which complicates matters. Ramius quickly resolves those matters, however, and gives the crew false orders to make them think they are headed to the American coast to scare the Americans with missile drills. With Red October going rogue, nearly the entire Russian fleet takes off in pursuit.
Meanwhile, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), briefs White House officials on the dealing of Ramius and Red October. The staff believe that they have a Russian madman on their hands, with the Russian fleet pursuing him. However, Ryan hypothesizes that Ramius may be trying to defect, based on a profile of Ramius and the fact that he once met the man at a dinner in Leningrad. Ryan is given the chance to prove his theory and he is sent out to sea to deal with it personally. Aboard the USS Dallas, sonar technician Jones (Courtney B. Vance) thinks he has discovered the location of the Red October. The Dallas is in pursuit, but not before picking up Jack Ryan along the way.
With both Russian and American ships in pursuit of Ramius, and the dangers posed by the abilities of the new submarine, the tension is built up very quickly. The Americans are worried that a rogue maniac is about to attack their country, while the Russians know his true intentions and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop him. This leaves the task up to Ryan to convince everyone that his theory is correct. The only issue is finding Ramius in time before something goes wrong. The plot set-up is simple with Baldwin actually dialing down his usual performance to play a low-key analyst thrust in the middle of all this intrigue. Connery, as Ramius, is stoic and certainly comes across as a man who tires of the gamesmanship he has taken part in. The respective performance of these two actors is really the central focus of the film. Another key performance was Scott Glenn as Dallas captain Bart Mancuso.
From a production standpoint, the sub interiors were claustrophobic and aided the tension of the plot. The interior shots are quite impressive with the electronic gadgets. The film doesn't really provide an idea of hos just how big the interior of the Red October is, but that's because the plot doesn't really dictate that we need to know. There is one shot near the beginning, as Connery and crew are at the top of the sub looking out to sea, that we see the enormity of the exterior. The underwater battle scenes are done very efficiently, but there are doubts as to the believability of the sub movements.
The plot begins simply enough, but then it adds some extra details that bog the story down somewhat, like a saboteur on board, and an overly elaborate plan to get the crew of the Red October off the sub so that Ramius and his true plans can come to fruition. Then things devolve into a shoot-out which has been done in countless movies, and certainly was not needed to add any further intrigue to this plot.
The Hunt for Red October is a very good film with solid professional performances from all cast members. It features some smart technical realism and great use of production values. The screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart is filled with naval and political jargon that sounds legitimate, however the plot (book and film) is overloaded and adds unnecessary gunplay to the festivities. It is a testament to John McTiernan that he was able to convey the real dread that both sides feel about the Cold War.