“God help you if you’re wrong. “
While Ridley might be the one with the prestige career and Oscar nominations, I think Tony might be the more consistent of the brothers Scott. For every great movie in Ridley’s filmography, like Alien, or Bladerunner, or Blackhawk Down, you get a couple of creatively devoid shit bombs. Like A Good Year, or Robin Hood, or GI Jane, or Gladiator. Sure, he scores 9/10 every now and again, but his average is brought down by a few 2/10 and 3/10 efforts.
Tony on the other hand? Tony Scott may have made basic genre pictures, but he made them consistently well. Pretty much everything is a 7/10 or 8/10 across the board. Movies like Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Man on Fire… They’re B grade fluff, but they’re meticulously made B grade fluff, always bringing infectious joy and excitement to even the most outlandish of action movie premises. And his best example of all of that may just be Crimson Tide.
Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) is called up to be second in command aboard a nuclear sub, skippered by Gene Hackman’s Capt. Frank Ramsey. When a Russian rebel takes control of a nuclear missile silo, Hunter and Ramsay are put into active duty, with the very real possibility of having to launch the largest nuclear assault the world has ever known. The two men’s apposing philosophies soon bring them against each other and the outcome could be a nuclear holocaust
Washington and Hackman are both phenomenal in Crimson Tide. Hackman might technically be the villain to Washington’s hero, but they both bring real layers to their characters. There are times when you have to agree with Hackman and totally understand his motives. Just like there are times when Washington is clearly in the wrong. And their chemistry is what drives this movie and makes it so great. When they get in a skirmish with a Russian sub, it’s exhilarating stuff. But it’s a testament to the two leads that it’s nowhere near as exciting as every single time they face off against each other.
Quentin Tarentino did some punch up on the script and there are two moments when it really shows. As they’re getting ready to ship out, some senor officers sit around, shooting the shit about which actor payed which submarine commander in which old movie. Later, two sailors get in a fight over which comic book author’s version of the Silver Surfer was the best. They’re both quintessential examples of Tarantino doing his unique thing, yet they both fit in perfectly with the broader story.
Before they set out on their mission, Gene Hackman’s Frank Ramsey gives a rousing speech on a rain soaked dock, in front of the sub that’s about to become their home. It’s night time, the rain is pounding down and a shower of sparks falls behind Hackman as his speech reaches its rousing climax. Why is there a shower of sparks? Because it looks badass, that’s why. There’s nothing happening that justifies the sparks being there, it just looks cool. And that sort of sums up Tony Scott at his best. And everything that makes Crimson Tide so good.