I seem to be on a little bit of a Sean Connery kick lately, although one of his films I recently reviewed I would rather forget. If you are familiar with the process of erasing memories from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), I would sign up for that procedure in a heartbeat. As that is not possible (in this day and age, anyway), I shall move on to The Hunt for Red October (1990). This film is also the first of a series of iterations of Tom Clancy’s long-standing character Jack Ryan, a sort of American James Bond but far more bookish. If you are unfamiliar with Clancy’s work, he wrote mostly about the secret wars fought by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its Soviet equivalent, the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), which loosely means the Committee for State Security. This Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) installment is a slice of that Cold War struggle.
The Hunt for Red October begins with the title Russian submarine putting to sea. The ship is a new type underwater vessel with a propulsion system that allows it to run even more silently than usual, allowing it to defeat sonar detection and launch its nuclear missiles before the American enemies could retaliate with their own atomic strike. In the calculus of the Cold War, the superpower that could wipe out its opponent without a response in kind was going to be the victor with all the global spoils. The trick here, though, is that the boat’s commander, Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), is not exactly loyal to the communist party. Upon leaving with the Red October, he submitted a letter to his superior officer indicating his intention to defect to the United States with his ship. This act, understandably, unnerves the Soviets and they mislead the Americans into believing that Ramius was out to initiate a preemptive strike against the United States, thus putting both countries’ navies in the Atlantic on high alert. Enter Jack Ryan, scholar and part-time analyst for the CIA, who has a different opinion of Ramius ultimate plans. When he is brought in to give his perspective, he is sent to the American fleet in the Atlantic to try and carry out a plot to bring Ramius and his submarine’s technology to the United States. He manages to make his way first onto the American sub Dallas, and then onto the Red October itself. Just when you might think that all is set for a safe journey into a United States’ port, another Soviet sub catches up with the Red October. At the same time, one of the Russian crewmen attempts to sabotage the ship. While Ramius and Ryan go after the saboteur, the Dallas captain, Captain Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) leads the remaining loyal Russians in the sinking of the Soviet submarine.
One thing I would like to point out about The Hunt for Red October (and this is germane to Ramius’ motivations for defecting to the United States) is that Ramius is Lithuanian, not Russian. Lithuania is a predominantly Catholic country, by the way. While I may be grasping at straws here as religion is never specifically mentioned, I like to think it could have been a factor. It was after the death of his wife that Ramius becomes disillusioned with the communist system. Because of the rigorous demands of duties to the mother country by the Soviet Union, he had been at sea when she passed away. And while Ramius murder’s the Red October‘s political officer, Ivan Putin (Peter Firth), early on, he does act for the welfare of his crew. Generally speaking, a captain (particularly of a warship) is a virtual deity at sea, yet the success of many a voyage depends on the leader’s benevolence. Ramius could have forced his Russian crew to come with him to the United States, thus separating from their homes with little choice. Instead, he hand-picks the officers who also want to defect and contrives a means for the rest of the sailors to get off the submarine, who all believe that Ramius wanted to go down fighting with his ship. Neatly done.
The Hunt for Red October is a slow moving yet still exciting film. Younger people will not like it, but if you enjoy submarine movies it is as good as it gets. It is also interesting to see the original Jack Ryan film. After this one, Harrison Ford took over for the next couple of films. You also had turns taken by Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, and there is also the more recent Amazon Prime series starring John Krasinski. It is also worth noting how the character became progressively more of an action star as time went on. I guess espionage by itself is boring.