Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen
Crimson Tide 1995

This is a simply amazing movie, and what makes it even more stellar is that we've had several fantastic submarine movies in the past - Das Boot and Red October come to mind. We've already seen the claustrophobic, booming power of being trapped in an underwater submarine. That this movie is able to make that closeness even more powerful - and draw us into a story that really grips you with its meaning - is rather impressive.

We begin with two powerhouses of actors, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Gene is in charge of the sub; Denzel works for him. Gene is an unabashed alpha male, not unheard of in a commander. Denzel is intelligent and respects the chain of command. Suddenly, we're thrown into a situation where the sub *might* have been ordered to launch a missile attack on an enemy to protect the US. Unfortunately, the sub can't get confirmation. So either they shoot and risk starting WWIII for no reason - or they fail to shoot and leave millions of people open to slaughter.

The plot and dialogue is incredible because it explores all the shades of grey in the characters. There's no right or wrong. Both scenarios are equally plausible. Gene wants to do what he was ordered to do, to save as many lives as he can. Denzel is desperate to get confirmation rather than risk mistakenly starting a world war. Both men suck up the men around them into their sides. Nobody WANTS the war. Gene doesn't take pleasure in firing - but he sees it as a necessary action to save lives.

In such close confines, every person on screen makes a huge difference. This movie had not only two stellar top men, but also a fantastic supporting cast. James Gandolfini a la Sopranos. Viggo Mortensen a la Lord of the Rings. Viggo plays a man who has a vital piece of information that the captain needs to launch his missiles. Viggo is unwilling to turn it over given the uncertainty of the situation; he doesn't want a "mistake" to launch a war. He won't even do it when his life is threatened. He is only convinced to cave in when Gene threatens to shoot one of his fellow workers. He'll give up his own life - but he won't force someone else to for his cause.

The music from Hans Zimmer is just amazing. He is a genius and can give incredibly subtle nuances to his works.

If I had to find something to nit-pick in this movie, it's that I don't think the sub scenes were truly "realistic". It seemed more of a Hollywood sub than a real working piece of machinery that trained soldiers were living in for months. I think Das Boot did an exquisite job of getting that sense across. But really, the sub in this case was a "set" for the dialogue and character development to happen in. It wasn't the showcase, and this wasn't a sub documentary. So I'm willing to accept that tradeoff, so that we could have as tightly woven a story as we got.

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