(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Crimson Tide
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: When an American nuclear submarine receives a partially obstructed order to fire upon a threatening Russian sub, the ship is divided into two factions: the hard-nosed half who support the veteran captain (Gene Hackman) who wants to launch immediately, and the more cautious half who side with the ship’s up-and-coming executive officer (Denzel Washington), who wants to follow the proper procedure and attain clear confirmation before firing.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Because Hackman and Washington are both in top form, it’s a timeless premise despite its ’90s setting, and the late Tony Scott directed the hell out of this thing. Simply put, it is one of the greatest submarine movies ever made.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” has been used so often and so broadly in recent years that my eyes can sometimes glaze over when I see it. But Crimson Tide is a film that’s truly interested in exploring two rival interpretations of masculinity and manhood – something Scott interrogated multiple times throughout his career in films like Top Gun and Unstoppable. The cast is stacked with a wonderful list of supporting players like James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, and Jason Robards, and full of “that guy” actors like Matt Craven, Steve Zahn, Ryan Phillippe, Ricky Schroder, Danny Nucci, and George Dzundza. When it comes down to it, however, it’s really a two-man show.
Hackman brings the weight of all of his previous authoritative roles to the film while creating a striking portrait of a man desperate to retain his relevance in a world that is changing around him. When he receives an order to fire, instead of following the proper channels, he clings to that task for dear life, knowing it may be his last chance to do something that’s deemed important.
Washington, fresh-faced and righteous, plays a selfless, by-the-book executive officer who does not see the sub’s ability to launch nuclear warheads as an extension of his manhood. When he instigates a mutiny, it’s not personal. It’s not a power trip. He understands the implications a launch would have on a global scale, and while Hackman’s character seems willing to watch the world burn as long as the record books show that he helped light the match, Washington’s character is able to see the bigger picture.
Arguably the most fascinating thing about the film is that it does not depict either of these characters as being less patriotic than the other — their clash comes down to a difference in what it means to protect democracy. It’s about more than this single launch, and the film drives up the tension and puts knots in your stomach, even if you think you know how it might end.
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