The Hunt for Red October Review

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The Soviet commander (Connery) of an amazing stealth super-sub, undetectable on sonar, flips his lid at 40,000 fathoms and makes off with the vessel. Is he a loony, planning to nuke New York, or is he a cunning devil defecting with the precious hardware?


Now that Soviets are so hip and lovable, and Hollywood is falling embarrassingly behind international relations, this submarine thriller may be one of the last of an endangered species: the Cold War cloak-and-dagger drama. The get-out in Hunt, though, is an intro fixing the Tom Clancy tale back in 1984, so the Muscovites can still be shifty adversaries.

Raimus’ actions send them apeshit at the Kremlin, and the entire Red Navy is sent to pursue and destroy him and the Red October. Over in D.C. the defence brains can't help but notice scads of Russian subs heading their way in some haste, and deduce it would be sensible to get their own mitts on the secret sub.

So far, so-so. One mystery kept going rather well is just what the captain really is up to. He might be nuts, he might be defecting, he might be pretending to be defecting because he really is nuts, and round it goes.

Alas, there are mighty gaffes here that sink a promising idea. The first is the failure of screenwriters, director and cast to get to grips with language. Ostensibly they opted for the conventional: Yanks play Yanks and Brits play the Russkies, mainly as nitwits. But in the opening sequences Captain Sean Connery, First Officer Sam Neill and KGB clown Peter Firth manfully tackle Russian. This sets a catastrophically hilarious tone, when long, painfully delivered lines you think must be quite profound are rendered into subtitles like "It is time". "Yes, it is time". Mercifully the Russian dissolves into English (or Scottish as the case most certainly is with you-know-who) except when the crew bursts into song.

Credulity is scuttled on terra firma as well, thanks to outrageous over-exposition. Alec Baldwin's fresh-faced CIA naval intelligence analyst Jack Ryan, for example, is allegedly so attuned to Ramius' mind he's practically psychic, predicting the Cyaptyin's every underwater move. He addresses himself in the mirror while shaving "Now, what's he going to do. . . ? What would I do. . . ?" Quick cut to him bursting into the admiral's office yelling "I know what he's going to do!"

Baldwin, while quite a dish, and Connery, while we all love him, haven't a chance of recovering the first 90 minutes from such absurdity. Finally, in the last 40 minutes, it picks up some steam and we get what we came for: air-sea stunts, underwater effects, hunters closing in on the prey, a saboteur doing his stuff, lethal weapons and a few twisteroos. The trick is to still be awake to enjoy them.

From the director of Die Hard, frankly, you expect less gab and more get-go, and the film is already lost by the time the pace picks up at the 80 minute mark.