The Tom Clancy Chronicles:
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Scott Glenn, Tim Curry, Sam Neill, Gates McFadden, and Stellar Skateboard (AKA: Stellan Skarsgard)
Written by: Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart
Directed by: John McTiernan
Based on the Novel: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
I know it is supremely uncool to admit, but I love Tom Clancy. Standing as one of my strangest earliest fandoms, introduced to the novels by grandfather’s book collection and persistent Summertime boredom. I dove into the writer’s canon as a teen with super inexplicable abandon. As I got older, I took in a few movies here and there. Other fandoms (mainly Doctor Who and Star Wars) supplanted my strange love of paramilitary intrigue.
Recently, my interest in the writer’s posthumous estate guided output like The Division, the Rainbow Six franchise, and the recent Amazon Jack Ryan series reignited my interest in the works. In the constant ad barrage for Jack Ryan, Amazon let slip that they were adding all of the previous Jack Ryan movies to their servers. So, I thought, “I have my directive.”. Thus, The Tom Clancy Chronicles were born.
These columns will attempt to… I dunno… explain my love of the source materials and adaptations through a critical lens and fresh adult eyes on the films? Yeah. Yeah, that sounds great. Given time I may even write up games and novels depending on how annoying you all, and my bosses find these. It is pretty uncool as a thirty-year-old to admit that you have the reading and watching habits of a sixty-year-old. Hey, that’s the job, right?
The first Jack Ryan movie thankfully still stands tall as one of the best. Though 1990’s The Hunt for Red October is marred nowadays by having some, let’s say, problematic people involved, the skilled camerawork and airtight script is very hard just outright to dismiss. As a matter of fact, let’s go ahead and discuss said problematic people. We all know that Alec Baldwin turned into a windbag and a verbally abusive dolt, but at the very least he is trying to atone for his past boorishness. His Trump impression is the dirt worst though. Don’t @ me.
The film’s director, the venerated John McTeirnan, also ended up being a goon. His crime was lying to the FBI in regards to him attempting to hire a shady character to investigate one of his producers on the 2002 Rollerball remake. He did four months in the federal pen. He still sits in director jail to this day, despite his action movie pedigree. Having directed such classics as Predator (1987), Last Action Hero (1993), and The 13th Warrior (1999). We also have character actor Jeffrey Jones, who plays former sub commander Skip Tyler. Perhaps the worst of the bunch, Jones pleaded no contest to the charge of soliciting a 14-year old for nudes and was swiftly canceled back in 2002.
Thankfully, Jones doesn’t play that large a role in the story outside the establishing first twenty minutes. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe every time I see him pop up in stuff. For example, I still can’t watch Beetlejuice. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. “Man Talk Now, Honey” Sean Connery, a man who advocated for the slapping around of women while also becoming one of Europe’s sure-fire entertainment exports. We know these things. We internalize them, but never forget them, no matter how good the movie is.
BUT ALL THAT ASIDE (sometimes you really have to compartmentalize stuff to enjoy Clancy joints), The Hunt for Red October still stands the test of time. Even beyond my grandad’s TV room. As a narrative experience, the thing runs about as well as a powerful Navy machine. Right from the jump, Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart’s script sell the stakes and global political implications the story has.
For those not in the know, a respected Russian sub commander by the name of Ramius (Connery) has absconded with the Russian Navy’s latest technical marvel. A silent, but massive new tactical nuclear sub by the name of Red October. To the world and the cold-warring U.S.S.R and America, it looks like Ramius plans on striking at the heart of “our old adversary” (his words) and with the October, he can do it. But C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan (a smoking hot young Alec Baldwin) thinks he plans to defect and aims to prove it and help him and his loyalist crew survive the process.
Though the story has clear global implications, the personal nature of the film is a large part in why it succeeds. Peppered with some trademark Clancy tech-fetishization based around the subs, Stewart and Ferguson’s script really strips down Clancy’s original novel to brass tacks, economizing its personal story for maximum effect. It is somewhat quaint to watch an action movie centered around one character simply trying to talk to another character nowadays. At the same time, wonderfully refreshing. Who would have thought that so many problematic men would end up starring in and making a shockingly untoxic example of masculinity in the year of our Lord 2018? That is just one of the beautiful things about fandom though.
It also doesn’t hurt that the film is littered with some truly amazing camera moves. (The silo reveal pictured above, for example, is a goddamn belter). As well as a damn fine take on Clancy’s leading man Jack Ryan. Baldwin’s Jack is every bit the nerd that the books proclaimed him to be. Without all the dick-swinging action that the writer would indulge in some of his later works.
We get glimpses of his family, anchored by the heavenly Gates McFadden as Cathy Ryan. His penchant for chunky sweaters, filled out by the affable charm of early Alec Baldwin. The script is constantly humanizing him. From a truly hilarious runner of Jack cursing himself about “not writing a goddamn memo” every time he is about to board a new Navy vehicle to him taking a cigarette from a Russian technician (even though he doesn’t smoke) to ingratiate himself to the Red October crew. Baldwin’s Jack sets a fantastic bar for the character on screen and ends up informing a LOT of future incarnations (including Amazon’s latest).
Verdict: WATCH IT
OKAY, so keeping in mind that there are some problematic people in front of and behind the camera and just the general jingoism of Clancy’s stuff all around (something we will be discussing A LOT here in these, so buckle up). The Hunt for Red October is still a tremendously fun and well-constructed piece of early 90’s action cinema. Better still, it is arguably one of the ONLY unimpeachably great Clancy adaptations. Translating the page-turning energy of that first novel into a brisk and satisfying movie experience. It is on Amazon Prime right now and available in all manner of physical formats.
Do yourself a favor one night. Just have a few scotches. Throw this on, and revel in an example of pure action filmmaking with a profoundly humanist edge. You won’t regret it. Trust this 60-year-old man masquerading as an uncool 30-something.
NEXT OBJECTIVE: 1992’s PATRIOT GAMES, a movie in which Rick Deckard fights a baby Sean Bean.