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From the DVD Shelf: Crimson Tide (1995)

Earlier this week I wrote about Tony Scott’s 1993 film True Romance. The second part of my little personal Tony Scott in memoriam double-feature was his 1995 film, Crimson Tide. I saw Crimson Tide back in theaters when it was originally released, but I haven never re-watched it since.  I remember being really excited to see it, but I also remember that I was a bit disappointed by the finished film.  It just wasn’t nearly as good as The Hunt for Red October, a submarine film that I adored, and to which I was constantly comparing Crimson Tide in my mind while watching the film.  I’ve never seen Crimson Tide since then, but I know a lot of people who love the film, so I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for quite some time.

The film is better than I remembered it being, but I definitely agree with high school me in thinking that, when compared to the masterful Hunt for Red October, it doesn’t compare favorably.  There’s something a little too simplistic about Crimson Tide, a little too action-movie silly as opposed to truly dramatic.  The film isn’t a check-your-brain-at-the-door piece of Hollywood stupidity, but there are definitely some choices (in the pacing, in the editing, in the music) that indicate that the film wants more to be an exciting action-adventure than a realistic drama.  Now, that’s not necessarily bad — I LOVE a great action adventure!  But that also puts a ceiling on the film’s potential right from the get-go.

The heart of the film is in the conflict between Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.  Both men are terrifically cast, and the whole film rests on the idea of these two powerhouses colliding with one another in the middle of a potentially world-ending nuclear showdown scenario.  Mr. Hackman plays Captain Ramsey, commander of the U.S. nuclear sub the U.S.S. Alabama (and was it Mr. Scott or Quentin Tarantino, who performed an uncredited re-write on the film’s script, who chose the name Alabama, which was also so memorably the name of Patricia Arquette’s character in True Romance?). Captain Ramsey is an experienced veteran of naval combat, experienced in the ways of war, and conditioned with a fairly simplistic soldier’s mentality of following his orders without question.  Denzel Washington plays the Alabama’s newly-assigned X.O., Lt. Commander Hunter.  Hunter is an intelligent and well-regarded officer, but he’s never been in combat and his analytical approach puts him into immediate conflict with Captain Ramsey.  Things come to a head when the Alabama receives orders to launch a nuclear first-strike on Russian rebels, but then receives another message that is cut off when the sub comes into conflict with a … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: True Romance (1993)

The recent passing of Tony Scott prompted me to pick up two films, both directed by Mr. Scott, that had been sitting for quite a whole on my “to-watch” shelf: True Romance and Crimson Tide. I hadn’t seen True Romance since college, and Crimson Tide since it was originally released back when I was in high school, and I’d long been thinking about re-watching both of them.  As my own personal little memorial to Mr. Scott, I sat down for a fun double-feature last week.

I can’t decide if True Romance’s title is meant to be ironic or genuine.  It’s a jump ball to me.  But the story works either way you look at it.  The movie is a fairy tale, albeit a blood-soaked, crazy, fever-dream of a fairy tale.  It’s totally implausible from the very beginning to the very end, but it’s so endearingly insistent in maintaining a tone of over-the-top madness that it’s hard not to get swept away by the story.  It helps that the two leads, Christian Slater as Clarence and Patricia Arquette as Alabama, are so likable.  You can’t help but root for this crazy couple to survive all the drug-dealers and double-crosses to find themselves a happy ending.  Watching this film, I can understand why Christian Slater was once a big star.  He’s electric in the role, manic and dangerous but with a hundred-watt smile and such a huge amount of cheerful affability that he’s incredibly lovable, even when the movie dares you to turn your back on him.  (We’re not too far into the film before he decides to hunt down and kill a dangerous pimp, spurred on to do so by a vision of Elvis.  You read that right.)  And I’ve never enjoyed Patricia Arquette quite as much as I do in this film.  Yes, she’s written as a comic book nerd’s idea of a perfect woman (sexy and tough and into kung fu triple features), so that of course makes her hard to resist, but she brings so much life to the role.  She’s street-wise but also innocent, naive without being a dim bulb.  Her chemistry with Mr. Slater is magnetic.

True Romance was written by Quentin Tarantino (it was released the year after his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs), and the film is dripping with Mr. Tarantino’s particular wit and influences.  Like most of Mr. Tarantino’s work, the film is intense and very violent, but also incredibly funny and filled with characters discussing their love of film and music and other geeky things.  Clarence and Alabama meet in the middle of a Sonny Chiba triple feature, what more do I need to tell you?  It’s interesting to see Mr. Tarantino’s … [continued]