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Month
June
Year
1995
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1995. Directed by Tony Scott. Cast: Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Hollywood Films. 113 mins.] Progressivism may be taking its hits on Capitol Hill, but it's holding its own at the box office. This year's first blockbuster, Crimson 77de, is an enthusiastic (falso muddled)endorsement of liberal values against mindless reaction. That the film resolves itself in a humane fashion is indicative of liberalism's deep-seated belief (as reflected by Hollywood) that reason will ultimately triumph over selfinterest. Civil war has erupted in Russia just as Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) is accepted as second-in-command of the nuclear strike submarine U.S.S. Alabama. The Navy is then put on alert when Vladivostok becomesthe battleground where Russia's nuclear warheads are being contested between their elected govemment and fascist insurgents. As the film gets underway, the world might be on the verge of World War III by default. While patrolling in the Pacific, the Alabama receives a garbled transmission suggesting a possible American preemptive nuclear strike to offset a threatened Russian attack. Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) enthusiastically orders his men to prepare to launch the sub's missiles despite the fact that he has no confirmation for the directive. When his new subordínate, Hunter, refuses to go along without checking for the order's accuracy, an onboard power play emerges between the two officers and the race is on to control the Alabama's red button. Granted the story's a bit overwrought - a sort of soggy nuclear on the Bounty. But both Washington and Hackman keep their ends of the bargain up through clenched teeth and stentorian dialogue. Their talent holds up the credulity of a workmanlike draft that reportedly ran through no less than four screenwriters. Crimson Tide keeps us in moderate suspense despite its not being ntrinsically suspenseful. Hackman gets the character melt-down while Washington takes the high road. His Captain Ramsey is irascible without being ham-fisted. Asupposed "by-the-books" commander, Ramsey intimidates his subordinates into doing his bidding, but his eyes consistently betray that he's well over his head in this predicament. As such, when the Harvard-educated Hunter corrects him on what von Clausewitz meant as opposed to what he is attributed to have said about war being the continuance of diplomacy by other means, Ramsey doesn't immediately go balüstic. He merely waits for the weight of command to assert itself when the Russians provide him with the opportunity to flex his muscles. The presumption of the screenplay - and Washington'scalmlymeasured performance - f ully sustains the belief that reason rather than authoritarian reaction provides the best strategy for wrestling with moral and political dilemmas. The fact that Hunter has the discipline to follow orders as demanded by naval command only makes the film's sense of justice seem that much more plausible. Still, he's probably the first-ever American action-film leading man to take a straight slug to the jaw twice without responding violently. This restraint is, of course, all for the good. But by also adopting such a passive stance, the film indicatesthatbroadmindednessequals tolerance and tolerance may be next to indecisiveness. Or at the least, tolerance may be an indecisive form of cowardice. Like last year's Forrest Gump, which made a virtue of bashing the character of every social activist in its story, Crimson Tide touches upon its serious issues without seeking to seriously examine their consequences. For the question the film seems to be ultimately posing is whether or not liberalism has lost its virility. Rather than face the consequence of such a controversial political position, the film doses the issue by making the confrontation between Hunter and Ramsey a matter of military discipline. Saving the world by a melodramatic hair's breadth, Crimson Tide brushes aside the weightier issues of whether or not reason andcompassion should triumph overintolerance and anger. The film merely presumes its positions reflexively and implicitly falls on the side of liberalism by default. Unlike the intensely personal checking taking place in American politics today, mainstream Hollywood cannot yet bite off the notion that it is fair game to undermine the higher aspirations of social and politica) conduct when the worid's fate hinges on the balance. On the plus side of the ledger, Crimson Tide neverdescendstoinchoatepolemicizing. Like most Hollywood products, it's been sheared of any controversial ideological elements. But rather than debate the merits of fascism (in either its social or interpersonal guises), the film weakly caps the conflict between Hunter and Ramsey by resorting to a thinly veiled, sophomoric racism. Ironically, this backhanded compliment indicates America's preoccupation with melanin is abating marginally. Or, at the least, racism is abating when the weightier issue of national patriotism and survival of the species is bandied about. Crimson Tide's mingling of conservative and liberal inclinations serve a flimsy pretext for the issues brought up in the screenplay. Seeking to play one political side off the other, the script lists to and fro like the submarine where the action is taking place. Just as by promoting itself as a high-tech Caine Mutiny, Crimson Tide casts a lukewarm light on the contrast between loyalty and the need for a secure military command structure as opposed to the opposite issues of personal integrity and the psychopathology behind a willingness to destroy civilization for the sake of an encoded piece of paper. Director Tony Scott hasn't the sufficient resources (much less a philosophically developed moral conscience)to examine the ethical implications of his screenplay. In his hands, the technologies and vocabularies of nuclear seamanship are sufficient unto themselves. His penchant for an affected radar palette gives the movie a heightened visual touch, but with no lessons to mpart his viewers, his cinematography has an abstracted eerie glow that invites observation rather than involvement. Crimson Tide preaches liberal constraint in an almostabsent-minded manner. Such a lack of commitment is only possible when the filmmaker behind the camera concentrates solely on atmosphere ratherthan the ideas behind his artistic devices. Ultimately, Scott is only interested in big toys that go boom in the night and his lack of sociality - much less a simpler sense of humanism - makes the film negligible. Scott aspires to be as relevant as today's headlines, but he also carnes the whiff of the old world order's Cold War paranoia. The film is therefore anachronistic in the sense that politicians of both the and right-stripe once believed bravado and bluster would solve anything in international affairs. Indeed, the film is anachronistic except for one significant mitigating factor. While Scott idles himself with his reifiedtechnology, Denzel Washington is elevating the film's script in somewhat the same manner that Henry Fonda did 2Oth Century Fox's socially oriented melodramas of the 1930s. It's almost a paradox that the actor who masterfully portrayed the uncompromising Malcolm X only a few years back has done an deological about-face. When push comes to shove - and with the world's future scripted on a piece of paper- Denzel Washington's Ron Hunter does the right thing by not adopting whatever means necessary. This liberal-leaning twist of fate is what becomes the difference between the apocalyptic worldviews of Crimson Tide and Dr. Strangelove. RATING KEY i?t Acting H Cinematography Direction L Editing L Narrative Sound Special Effects HTwn a symbol appears lollowing a Dle, il implies that the corresponding category is a strength of the movie.

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