5 - 1
For many, this is Tony Scott’s best film. It’s all machismo, jingoism, and—at least according to Quentin Tarantino—a wellspring of suppressed homoerotic longing. Unfortunately, the final result has not aged well at all, lending credence to the notion that the ‘80s was nothing more than empty high concept crap delivered in preachy, pedantic obviousness. Still, the dogfight sequences are excellent and, as usual, Scott gathers together a terrific cast. Everyone involved tried something similar with Days of Thunder, and the pre-NASCAR phenom failed. Probably not enough same sex allusions. right?
Sadly, this will be known as Scott’s last film, and his final collaboration with his ‘DeNiro’, Denzel. The premise seems preoccupied with the set-up of this particular rail system, including an elephantine command center, backstabbing internal politics, and a track that offers a nasty, last act dead man’s curve. While Chris Pine has a time keeping up with his costar, he matches Washington in ways the screenplay couldn’t have anticipated. In a sense, one steely man of dramatic action appears to be passing the baton to his deserving younger. The results are fast and furious.
Dismissed at the time as an example of Hollywood hubris run wildly amok (Shane Black’s script nabbed a record $1.75 million), this efficient and artfully manned production proved that Scott’s style could support even the most macho genre title. Featuring an important turn by Bruce Willis (this proved his post-Hudson Hawk disaster mantle) and a fascinating football setting (not to mention a rare villain roll for oddball comic Taylor Negron), everything here is overheated, overused, and overextended. Still, it succeeds because Scott understands splash within style. He delivered both here in true auteur form.
It’s the battle of multiple Oscar winners here, though at the time, Washington was waiting for his second slice of recognition. The story is one that’s been done dozens of times before (hot shot second in commander questions leader’s decision making in lieu of an international crisis) and the submarine setting feels a bit too much like The Hunt for Red October. Still, Scott knows how to handle actors, and both Washington and Hackman reward his faith in their abilities. Their confrontations bring on much of the suspense. The story succeeds as a nailbiter as well.
Head and shoulders the best work Scott ever did, though he had a lot of help in the process: a brilliant script by Quentin Tarantino, a terrific cast topped by Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken, and the appropriate balance of art and artifice. There are moments in this movie that are so kinetic, so energetic and lively that it’s hard to believe it’s just a film. Instead, it feels like a real moment captured in time, all the sense locked into a crazy crime story and a couple of star crossed kids. Scott would never top this… ever.
// Notes from the Road
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