The Hunt for Red October (1990)

We hated the Russians so much, we just cast Scotsmen in their roles!

Soviet naval officer Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) is a pretty big deal, especially since he himself, along with the rest of his crew are aboard the submarine known as “Red October”. What makes this sub so special is that it’s able to move so silently throughout the ocean, without ever being detected by a fellow ship or submarine. It can practically get from point-A-to-point-B, without a single hiccup or interruption to be found in between, which is probably why the U.S. government freaks out so much when they have the slightest idea that Ramius, along with his ship and crew, may be heading for the States in hopes that they’ll blow-up Washington and send us a message we’ll be soon to never, ever forget. However, most members of the U.S. government have no clue who Ramius is, or the type of man he truly is; all of them, with the exception of one CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin). See, Ryan believes a theory that Ramius isn’t actually coming to America to blow us up, but rather to escape his country in hopes that he can start anew and get away from all of the pain, hardships and suffering he’s witnessed over there in Russia. Problem is, Ryan’s going to have to do a lot of convincing, to a lot of people, and may have to do it all before the Russians themselves pick-up the pace with Ramius’ ship and get rid of him for betraying them.

"Brrr, baby. Itsch cold outshide."
“Brrr, baby. Itsch cold outshide.”

It seems like adapting a Tom Clancy novel can be a hard task to go through with, especially considering his books are so dense and rich with detail, jargon and exposition. That’s why most of these Jack Ryan movies that are made, usually try to center on the well-known CIA Agent-character himself, in hopes that they don’t have to put that much of an eye on the technology Clancy himself loves to chat about, but also piss-off those devout readers of his, just in case you have to change some things up in the process. But that’s not the department where director John McTiernan doesn’t screws up; in fact, from what I hear, he stayed pretty damn loyal to the source-material, which must have been very hard considering there’s all sorts of stuff going on here, and sometimes, all at once.

To start things off though, I have to be honest and tell you all like it is: The first 20 or so minutes of this are pretty hard to get into. Not only is the movie relatively slow as molasses, but there’s a lot of talking going on here that you don’t know what it’s all really about. I got that the movie itself was trying to set-up character’s, give us a bit of insight into them and have us locked and loaded for what was to be the premise for the rest of this movie, but oddly enough, I felt like I may have stumbled upon the middle-half of the movie, where we’ve already been introduced to everything it is that we need to know with this story, the characters and the central-conflict at hand. And I’ve already seen this before, so to have that problem occur once again, made me feel like I was surely making a mistake, one that I should have left as another “one and done” deal.

But, as I expected it to, things began to sort themselves out and this is where McTiernan’s skills as a director come into play, as he’s somehow able to rack-up tension, just by throwing little bits and pieces of information at us. When a couple of people are speaking about what options they have next on the table for themselves, I couldn’t help but feel riveted and wonder what conclusion all of these peeps were going to come to. Most of the time, hell, I didn’t even know what they were talking about, or even how they gained all of that information in the first place, but I trusted McTiernan enough as a director to where I knew that wouldn’t bother me and I’d just have to pay attention a bit more.

That’s why “paying attention” is exactly what you’re going to have to do with this one, because the more you figure stuff-out, sometimes along with the characters in this film themselves, the more the tension amps-up and absolutely sucks you in. Submarine-thrillers seem to always do the trick for me nowadays, but this one really got to me as I could practically taste the sweat dripping off of each and every one of these dude’s foreheads, feel the heat from the steam running all throughout the submarine itself and the constant clinging and clanging of the steel up against, whatever it was that it was constantly clinging and clanging against. I felt like I was right there, watching the ride, enjoying the show and in the middle of a dire situation that just seemed to get more and more suspenseful and unpredictable as it went along, even if I already knew what the outcome was going to be beforehand.

And that, my friends, is exactly when you know a thriller is doing its job, and doing its job correctly. God, I wish John McTiernan would get out of the clink, come back and continue to make movies. Because, I don’t know about you, but I think some people may need him around for another flick or two.

Just saying, legal system.

"Damn you, Charles. You sunk my battleship, once again!"
“Damn you, Charles. You sunk my battleship, once again!”

Another reason why this thriller works so well too, and in many ways, why it isn’t as dated as most movies from the year of 1990 are and/or ought to be, is because it doesn’t really take any political-stance on the Cold War itself. We see plenty of development on the sides of both the Americans, as well as the Russians, and while the former may get a tad better treatment than the latter, it still should be noted that the flick never makes it out to seem like these Ruskies are the types of soulless, blood-sucking nuke-nuts that the media may have portrayed them as. Sure, they went into the war with their weapons and heads held high, but they were also fighting for their families, friends and most importantly, their country. Hate to start sounding like a die-hard liberal over here, but it’s a nice change-of-pace to actually see from a movie for once in which we aren’t given a clear-cut, black-or-white situation with these two sides. We see them both as humane, for better and sometimes, for worse.

Acting as channels for both of those sides are the performances from Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery, who both play on both sides of the coin, but also seem to understand one another as human-being, as well as tactical soldier. This is infamously Alec Baldwin’s one-and-done stint as Jack Ryan, and while I wouldn’t say he is amazing here, he certainly isn’t terrible neither. Actually, I’d just put it simple and state that Baldwin’s fine, and while I do think that, in recent time, we’ve seen him come-off a lot better as a supporting-player, much more than the star of the show, he still does a nice job as Jack Ryan, giving us a guy that has the brains to think his way into, and out of any particular situation, and even if he may not have the skills to succeed in a fight, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty a bit. Over the next couple of flicks, this element to the character of Jack Ryan would begin to change and evolve into a more “fuck yeah”, action-y type of character, but it still worked well for Baldwin nonetheless.

The one this movie really works wonders for is Sean Connery who, despite obviously trying to hide his thick Scottish-accent, really does give a certain heroic-pose and feel to Marko Ramius, even though he may definitely make some questionable decisions as Captain of the ship, here and there along the way. Still, through it all, Connery seems like the type of guy you’d be able to trust when he’s at the helm of all this, and be able to spit some inspiration into your hearts, even when he clearly knew the shit was about to hit the fan. However, there’s a reason for why he stays so calm and never clams-up throughout this deadly situation, and it’s one that humanizes him and makes us see that Connery can work with anything. Just throw him a script worthy of his talents and watch him spin the wheels. Gosh, I truly do miss him.

Consensus: May not be the quickest, most punchiest thriller you’ll ever see in your life, but it still stands, and stands in high-order that The Hunt for Red October is an exceptional thriller that gets down the meat of the situation, while never forgetting about making it fun, exciting and worth while for everybody involved, especially the audience sitting back at home and using their brains as hard as they can.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Old-school computer-programming must have been a hoot!
Old-school computer-programming must have been a hoot!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo


  1. This is one of my favorite films ever. I think it’s an unusual kind of film that doesn’t have a lot of action but it is still very engaging for the way it explores the world of submarines and defection. Most of all, I love the cast in that film. Even the little moments such as the scenes between Sean Connery and Sam Neill where the latter expresses about wanting to go to Montana to live a very free life.

    • That was a very nice scene and I do agree with you about there not being all that much action to begin with, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still exciting to watch.

  2. I have seen this movie once in my life, this past summer on Netflix, and when it just ends I was livid! Made me dislike it on so many levels, but you have so many valid points. It was a good movie, just hated the ending.

    • The ending definitely just happens, but honestly, I don’t know where else they could have gone from there. Also, more than likely set it up for a sequel that would have followed through on what just previously happened.

  3. It is such an awesome movie. Love the performances, story and music and probably would put this in my top 100 favorite movies if I ever made a list.

  4. Good review dude, I haven’t seen Red October in forever! I need to get back to it because I too miss Sean Connery’s voischh

  5. Loved the film myself. Wonderful and thoughtful review Danno.

    You mentioned missing McTiernan. I miss Richard Jordan who played the State Department dude. And if one were to go back and look at the cast list now – more than 23 years later – wow.

  6. I think this is still the best of the Jack Ryan films. Patriot Games has more action but is duller, and while I like Clear and Present Danger, it lacks the same intrigue. Baldwin is also really good as Ryan and is sometimes forgotten after Ford took the role. I really need to see this again.

  7. Epic essay, Dan! Well written, my friend. I love this film to no end. My favorite Sub flick and favorite Jack Ryan movie. Baldwin was amazing as Ryan. I would have loved to see him do at least one more.

    Even though Ford was more bankable at the time he just did not capture the intensity that Baldwin had in this movie. Plus, Ford’s films didn’t have a great adversary in them like Connery’s Captain Ramius. Have you seen “Phantom,” yet? Decent sub flick with Ed Harris.

    Good job on this one, Dan!

      • It was pretty average but had some decent moments. I thought Harris and Duchovny were ok in it.

        I’m a submarine flick completist. Probably the reason why I watched and reviewed it.

        I hope you Grand-pop enjoyed it! 🙂

  8. Great job Dan, couldn’t agree with you more. The whole being politically neutral and showing the Russians and Americans was my favourite element of the film.

  9. I have a fondness for Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan movies but I think this could be the best of the franchise. Curious how the new one would rate against the rest, seeing that on Wednesday!

    • I think it’s definitely the best of the Jack Ryan movies. They’ve all been good, but this one started off on the right foot. Especially with Sean Connery attached to it.

  10. Really nice work on this review! I have a soft spot in my heart for the first three Jack Ryan films.

    What a run McTiernan had from ’87-’90. Predator, Die Hard, Hunt For Red October.

      • I don’t remember Medicine Man well enough to comment on it. But I do like the third Die Hard, and Thomas Crown is one of my favorite remakes. So… yeah… he had a good career before the whole jail thing.

  11. One of my favorite thrillers and the BEST of the Jack Ryan films. I actually thought it’s better than the book. It’s too bad studio politics forced Baldwin out of playing Ryan again, he’s perfect in the role. Let’s hope once McTiernan is out of prison, he can make another good action movie again, I think this was his best work in the 90s.

  12. This is one of my favorite films. John McTiernan is a grossly underrated Director. When it comes to the action and thriller, he easily fits among the elite of these genres. Plus, he also made “Predator” – one of the best sci-fi films of all time.

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