The Hunt for Red October (1990)

A Tense and Calculated Rise to a Cold War Climax

The Hunt for the Red October is a Cold-War story based on a Tom Clancy novel. The time setting is 1984, prior to Gorbachev’s reign. The movie was released in 1990 and is an edge of your seat watch undoubtedly and even 30 years later, it’s still a great watch. The length of the film is just right, and intensity rises and falls throughout, making sure that the viewer doesn’t easily get bored and keeping the plot moving forward. 

Marko Ramius is played by Sean Connery and is a captain for the cutting-edge Russian submarine the Red October. The sub is supposed to be extremely difficult to detect as it’s propelled by “magneto hydrophobic propulsion” which keeps its imprint on radar nonexistent.  Furthermore, the sub is outfitted with enough weaponry that it could blow the eastern US to smithereens in an instant if necessary. In essence, it’s the perfect vehicle to add tension to an already tense situation in 1980s Soviet and American politics. 

On the other side of the coin is CIA intelligence analyst Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin. Ryan has been keyed in on Ramius and has suspicions that he might not be dead set on attacking the US, but rather he might intend to defect from the Russians and side with the Americans. Before any action can be taken by the Americans, Ryan has to prove Ramius’ motives. 

When posed with the question of what is the purpose of the Red October, the Russian ambassador states that the hidden submarine is simply in a state of emergency, and the large fleet of submarines and ships that are following it are there to provide aid. But later on, they change their tone and say that Ramius is hellbent on attacking the United States and he’s defected from Soviet orders. 

The American eyes at sea are provided via the USS Dallas, captained by Bart Mancuso, played by Scott Glenn. The Dallas is doing its best to keep eyes on the Red October, aided by the fact that he has an incredible sonar shipmate who is capable of tracking the Red October by listening. 

Throughout the movie there is tension and an almost parallel theme between Ramius and Ryan, and it’s the Americans that Ramius fears most, due to his familiarity with the Russian forces. The hopes and dreams of Ramius’ crew, although not all of them seem to be totally convinced of the American Dream that they are headed for, is led by Ramius’ second in command, played by Sam Neill, who constantly elaborates on what he will do once landing in America, namely living in Montana. 

The movie reaches peak intensity near the end as the Russians begin to close in on the Red October, and it’s there that an ultimatum is required. 

In all, many of the shots of the underwater behemoths are beautiful and capture not only the vastness and vulnerability of floating in the middle of the ocean, but further illustrates the rigidity and magnificent grace that the submarines are built with. There is a lot in the movie that is reflective of 1980s filming, including dramatic lighting on the submarines in saturated hues of green, blue, and red, that helps to set the different subs apart, but can come off as glaring. 

The beauty of this film lies primarily in its diplomatic tension. There is certainly action involved, but there are also lulls, where the unknown is what keeps you on the edge of your seat. And where navigating dangerous waters is a task not only for the submarines and ships, but also for those trying to engage in diplomatic relationships and discover each other’s true motives and develop a sense of trust. This trust is what becomes the foundation for key decision making later in the film and it leads the viewer to constantly wonder not only what happens next, but if trust is being put in the right places. 

Alec Baldwin does an incredible job of portraying the mental toll that the situation, secrecy, and negotiations are having on him. You constantly get the feeling that Ryan’s head is on a swivel and he’s careful about where he places his trust. His decision making is exciting to watch as he’s tasked with using prior knowledge of the Russian captain of the Red October and his own judgement and gut feelings to piece together a plan of action that is worth following through with and maybe even putting his life on the line for. 

On the opposite spectrum, Sean Connery performs impressively as well in portraying a leader that is calculated, cool, focused, and set in his judgement. His character requires an immense amount of strategic leadership and determination in the midst of being tracked by the world’s two greatest powers. His constant attention and collectiveness are his best attributes and are displayed extremely well by Connery. 

All told, although The Hunt for the Red October is 30 years old, this film it will go down as a timeless classic that is believable in any era and can be watched and enjoyed for many years to come. Even by the time that this movie arrived in 1990, the Cold War had essentially ceased, just short of the Soviet Union being dissolved in 1991. And even at its release after the cessation of the war, the public still massively enjoyed it, and you can see why. One can only imagine how tense it would have been to view in the heat of the Cold War.