PG, but 1990-PG. It means that they can curse and take the Lord's name in vain a whole bunch of times because they never really go higher than that. Also, Sean Connery straight up murders a dude and he's considered to be one of the heroes of this movie. There's a couple of Die Hardy things in the movie too. A guy gets shot up and that's pretty grizzly for a PG film. But it's not awful either. It's an espionage thriller that just happens to technically be rated PG.
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
A while ago, Bob and I were throwing around the idea of watching all of the Jack Ryan movies in preparation for Amazon Prime's Jack Ryan television show. We say lots of things and this hit the bottom of our priority list. The only problem was that I bought Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in the meantime because it wasn't available on Amazon Prime. Then all of the other movies disappeared from streaming services, so I bought them on Blu-ray. I'm a modern day hero.
I'm going to write a lot about something that should be absolutely obvious. It's going to make you mad. It's going to make me mad. But it was something that I couldn't really get over for the majority of the film. The obvious statement I need to make is that John McTiernan movies look and feel like John McTiernan movies. I'm intentionally writing that statement to make myself look dumb. It seems really obvious. I just looked up John McTiernan's films on IMDb. He only made 12 movies. That's actually kind of shocking. I've seen the majority of John McTiernan's films. But The Hunt for the Red October felt like such a spiritual sequel to Die Hard that I almost enjoyed it just for that exact thing. I mean, it's a PG spiritual sequel to Die Hard, but those movies have such a specific tone to them. McTiernan made Die Hard in 1988. He made The Hunt for the Red October in 1990. These were both huge hits for him. But the way those movies are constructed is almost silly. I don't know if McTiernan had any influence over the script, but he used a lot of his tricks that he learned on Die Hard for this one. Personality wise, Jack Ryan in this movie is just John McClane. Ryan in The Hunt for the Red October is regularly put upon. He is continually loaded with inconvenience and the understanding that he shouldn't be the one to have to complete the job. I know that is part of the character, but McTiernan just drives it home with the constant belaboring of his situation. He even does the John McClane talking to himself thing about how he isn't supposed to be there. As an extension, I don't really feel like we get to understand Jack Ryan as a character. I'm never quite sure that Ryan is ever fleshed out as a character. We have the origin story keep showing up, the helicopter crash leading to him becoming an analyst. But in terms of actual substance, we kind of just get that he's a brainy dude who is right when everyone is telling him that he is wrong.
But because John McTiernan has his hands on Jack Ryan, Jack Ryan is kind of a more polite version of John McClane. That actually might be the biggest problem with Jack Ryan as a character. Don't get me wrong. I actually really like Jack Ryan movies for the most part. I don't know if I'll ever lose my mind over them. There was a time when I first started liking film in middle school that I thought I was really artsy by liking Jack Ryan movies. (Yeah, I tend to not like my younger self.) But the accidental byproduct is that Jack Ryan is less of a character and more of a vehicle for an actor and a director to decide who he is. Lots of characters have that issue. James Bond definitely changes between actors, but a lot of the same beats keep on getting hit. Sherlock Holmes is all over the place, depending on the attitude of the director. But I always feel like Jack Ryan wants to be one thing, but that one thing is only loosely defined. With a movie like The Hunt for the Red October, there is probably less to work with than in other films. I know that in Clear and Present Danger, we see a lot of Ryan in his sense of normalcy. But in Hunt for the Red October, we see him flying out in crisis mode in the middle of the night. Everything about Jack Ryan that we need to know about what his life is normally like is done through telling, not showing. We see a bunch of submarine books to give us exposition for his in-depth knowledge of submarines. We know that he has a daughter, so something to fight for. But he's already on a plane. Then, he's just given John McClane's discomfort with flying from moment one. He can't sleep on a plane, which is fun, but in light of Die Hard, it's him without shoes. It's a running gag that ends with the film ultimately allowing him to fall asleep on a plane. It's cute and all, but it's also wildly manipulative, not to mention kind of predictable. That's not a fleshed out character. But again, we hadn't had an on-screen Jack Ryan yet. I wonder what fans of the Tom Clancy novels thought of that adaptation. Maybe I've given it the most thought on the Internet, which sounds right. I'm going to stick with that.
I wish I had something original to say about Sean Connery's character. I mean, everyone has already said to death that it is hilarious that Sean Connery and Sam Neill don't even attempt to try Russian accents. Brits playing every foreigner is pretty hack at this point. I even appreciate McTiernan's attempt to ground it in reality by having the big shift of everyone speaking Russian to everyone speaking English. It's clever. I wonder how weird this movie must have been for Russian audiences, who probably never even got it. But the discussion on Connery should kind of go in a different direction, one that is only tangentially related to him. This might be the only movie to lower the stakes than raise them. By the end of this movie, the worst thing that could happen is that the United States loses out on a sweet opportunity. I guess if I really wanted to up the stakes to a potential apocalyptic level, I could say that we would be unprepared for a secret nuclear launch from an invisible sub. But the movie starts off with the stakes through the roof. It really REALLY implies that Connery is a rogue submarine captain obsessed with starting nuclear war with the United States. It makes sense because the bulk of the cast thinks this as well. It's only Jack Ryan who figures out otherwise. Okay, that's great. But think about how that completely subverts expectations for a film. The Hunt for the Red October is a fine film, but it actually kind of hits a "so-what" moment a few times in the movie. Ryan risks his neck out, not as someone who is stopping a nuclear war, but as a treasure seeker. The misleads are pretty intense. Connery murders a guy in the first few minutes of screen time in a really brutal way. That guy seemed plenty nice. But McTiernan is evoking some of his Hans Gruber stuff with the introduction to Connery. Part of this is the movie is coming out at the perfect time. Audiences are just about to emerge from the Cold War. I think the Berlin Wall came down in 1991. We are so used to the Russians being the bad guy. Also, while Connery makes a good hero, seeing him in this role almost builds on the idea that he would make an even better villain. He's James Bond, the guy who deals with the Russians time and again. Yeah, his films have established that the Russians are not to be trusted. That twist to show that Connery's character is sympathetic to the Americans is really a weird one. It actually makes the antagonists fairly faceless. The closest things we have to faces to our bad guy is an ambassador who seems to be pretty clueless, a Russian nuclear submarine commander who has little background story (kind of like the big henchman in Bond films), and a cook. The cook is almost just a monkey wrench in the works. It's a very odd structure. It also creates a weird tone. Okay, the mother of all submarine movies is Das Boot. I haven't watched it in a few years, but I remember my dad talking about it all the time. Submarine movies, I guess, have a certain reputation for being the classy war / espionage movies. I suppose it is the claustrophobia of the whole thing. But The Hunt for the Red October, despite being a mildly classy movie, kind of reads as a Michael Bay action movie with very little action. I can see Jerry Bruckheimer producing this film. It's really the submarine movie for the common man, despite the fact that it is heavily seasoned with Tom Clancy-esque jargon.
I'm not going to lie. The Hunt for the Red October was a different movie than what I thought I was going to get into. It's not on a list of modern classics, but it is close. I watched it, and thought that this movie was a lot dumber than I thought it was going to be. That also being said, I had a lot more fun with this movie than I really planned to have. It's actually a good time, with the exception of young Alec Baldwin's Bruce Willis impression. Listen, I love Die Hard. So for something to act as a great double feature with Die Hard, I can't complain too much. I wish McTiernan branched out a little more. But The Hunt for the Red October does the job it is supposed to do. I enjoyed it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.