THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
It is not too surprising that Ronald Reagan and the armed forces so enthusiastically endorse Tom Clancys work as it holds an underlying conservative bias that draws upon outmoded Cold War black-and-whites US military as good guys and world policemen, USSR as the bad guys. It was probably of great regret to Clancy, not to mention Le Carre, Deighton and the James Bond producers that Mikhail Gorbachev ended the Cold War. It has at least made their livelihoods considerably more difficult in the search for worthwhile villains. They should have sued Gorbachev. This film version of The Hunt for Red October came out the same year as the Berlin Wall fell and officially ended Communism. It will probably go down in history as the last Cold War thriller ever to be made. Even when it arrived on screens, there was already something dated about it it has, for example, to backdate its setting to 1984 to still be able to credibly tell a Cold War story.
Not that that stands in the way of a gripping thriller. The film was directed by John McTiernan, one of the most underrated action directors in the US mainstream, who had just come from the phenomenal success of the hit Die Hard (1988). The film does a fine job in adapting Clancys best-seller it is a top drawer piece of movie-making all the way, gloriously expansive and expensive-looking, yet the plot kept neat, compact and tightly-wound. John McTiernan has a particularly suspenseful grip on the film and keeps the story constantly twisting and always on the move. There are some intensely exciting seat-edge games with submarines creeping up behind each other and people trying to psychologically outguess the other.
In fact, the large screen seems a far better place for Tom Clancys thrilling but stolidly stoic writing style than the printed page. The cast certainly give Clancys characters which have improbably comic-bookish names like Bart Mancuso, Jeffrey Pelt, Skip Taylor and are usually wooden in the writing far more life than Clancy himself does. Ramius is the sort of wily sea dog role that Sean Connery can do in his sleep, even if it becomes difficult to swallow a Russian captain with a Scots brogue. The one who rises out of the large number of arrayed names is Alec Baldwin who gives a sharp, intelligent and convincingly urgent performance as Ryan. The pairing of the two Baldwins sharpness and Connerys wily screen-filling presence fills the film. Courtney B. Vance also gives a fine performance as the sonar operator, he being able to hold the entire theatre to silence simply by raising his hand.
There were three further Jack Ryan films, the banal Patriot Games (1992) wherein he faces IRA terrorists, and the box-office underperforming but otherwise surprisingly good Clear and Present Danger (1994) with Ryan facing Central American drug barons and a Presidential coverup. In both of these, Harrison Ford played Ryan. The Sum of All Fears (2002), a dull film about nuclear terrorism, miscasts Ryan with an much younger Ben Affleck, while a further reboot Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) stars Chris Pine. The only other Clancy works on screen have been the tv mini-series Op Center (1995), about the theft of nuclear weaponry, which Clancy later expanded out as the basis of his series of sharecropped books of the same name, and the futuristic tv mini-series Net Force (1999) from Clancys other series of books.
John McTiernans other films are: Nomads (1986), Predator (1987), Die Hard (1988), Medicine Man (1992), Last Action Hero (1993), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), The 13th Warrior (1999), Rollerball (2002) and Basic (2003).