Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Drama Duration: 138 mins Director: Rob Reiner Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore
One of the most quoted movies in recent decades, Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s legal drama pits Tom Cruise’s talented young JAG Corps officer against Jack Nicholson’s tyrannical Marine Corps division commander. Cruise excels as the plucky lawyer faced with the task of defending two marines on trial for murder. However, this one will always be remembered for his co-star’s scenery-chewing turn as the defendants’ base commander and the man behind their illicit orders to “train” the soon-to-be victim. A host of top names fill out the rest of the bill with both Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak (as Cruiser’s legal team) playing more grounded roles than was typical of their careers at that point. Kevin Bacon is his usual safe pair of hands as the prosecutor while a nasty Kiefer Sutherland and the late great J.T. Walsh offer strong support as Nicholson’s underlings. Sorkin’s sharp script is best remembered for its relentless courtroom dialogue but it’s laced with subtleties that augment the drama from all angles. From its nods to the various character’s backgrounds to the unspoken enmity between the Marines and the Navy, they provide a rich subtext to the plot. From the director’s chair, Reiner generates a palpable tension and swift pace from the screenplay with much help from composer Marc Shaiman’s exciting score and, of course, his two leads. Though “Colonel Nathan Jessup” has probably gone down as Nicholson’s most famous role and though he certainly provides the lion’s share of the movie’s dramatic thump, it’s not the most nuanced piece of acting we’ve seen from the screen legend. Playing up to a caricature of his own celebrity, he never attempts to escape his “Big Jack” persona and is content to let his famous sneering delivery and scathing smile do most of the work. Not that it hurts the movie in the slightest but it seems a relevant footnote when discussing one of modern cinema’s most memorable characters.
Rating: The Good – 69.5 Genre: Science Fiction, War Duration: 103 mins Director: Don Taylor Stars: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross
Cracking sci-fi thriller starring Kirk Douglas as the captain of a 1980’s aircraft carrier which gets pulled into a vortex during routine manoeuvres off Hawaii and gets sent back to December 6th 1941. The premise is compelling to say the least and it’s tapped for all its worth as the crew of the massively advanced ship weigh the moral and philosophical implications of intervening in the Japanese sneak attack which is about to be launched against Pearl Harbor. The film is set up wonderfully with plenty of time dedicated to substantially introducing the various characters and establishing their various political and moral positions and whatever relationships which will become relevant later on. The scenario is made more interesting with the inclusion of Martin Sheen as a civilian consultant who provides an unpredictable counterpoint to the hardened military personnel.
As two of the most professional actors to ever grace the screen Douglas and Sheen are great either on their own or together and they each bring an abundance of personality to the film. Katherine Ross and the always excellent Charles Durning offer equally interesting points of view as 1941 civilians (Durning playing a wily old senator) rescued by the aircraft carrier after the Japanese attacked their boat. Director Don Taylor is to be commended for his handling of the large scale logistics which include shooting everything from live action fighter jets, helicopters, the carrier itself, to the infamous Japanese “zeros”. The various action sequences are elegantly shot and edited and would rival any dedicated war film from the time. Furthermore, Taylor shows real panache in how he shoots the time-travelling sequence and imbues the moment with a real sense of primordial menace. This is particularly important because if captured in the wrong manner, the tenuousness of the story’s premise could be exposed (for example, just imagine how a “Time Tunnel” like shot of the carrier spinning two-dimensionally into the past could’ve undermined its credibility).
It all builds up to a fitting climax and there’s even time to tie some mind bending logical time-loops into the story in the vein of the best time-travel movies. The Final Countdown is exactly what a war/time travel sci-fi should be. It’s entertaining and reasonably stimulating and it really should’ve been remembered better.
Rating: The Good – 83.8 Genre: War Duration: 98 mins Director: Dick Powell Stars: Robert Mitchum, Curd Jürgens, David Hedison
Actor Dick Powell stepped behind the camera to serve up this timeless and expertly crafted WWII naval drama about two captains engaged in a battle of wits above and below the water respectively. Robert Mitchum plays the captain of the US destroyer who is supposed to be convalescing on an easy assignment after spending weeks adrift in the North Atlantic after his previous ship had been sunk. However, after unexpectedly encountering a German U-boat, he enters into a compelling game of cat and mouse with a German counterpart who shares every bit of his skill and acumen.
Mitchum gives a more reserved performance than his usual star vehicles offer but, ever the consummate movie star, his screen presence still works a treat. Mitchum belonged to that small group of stars who owned the camera when it was on him and The Enemy Below is no different. Curd Jürgens is equally good as the war-weary U-boat commander and the two do a fine job in playing off each other as mutually respecting opponents. Powell deserves a lot of credit too as he constructs one immense torpedo and depth-charge laden battle sequence after another. The photography is splendid whether above or below the water and Powell’s use of sound particularly in the underwater sequences is inspired. He also strikes a composed balance between the taut and quiet moments, efficiently using the latter segments to flesh out the personalities of the various support players.
However, it is Wendell Mayes’ adaptation of D.A. Rayner’s novel which provides the finishing touch to this epic because, without a doubt, the standout strength of this movie is the cleverness of the tactical and mental interchanges shared between the two captains. It’s in these moments that each of this film’s components come together so seamlessly to produce the type of spellbinding submarine action that has really only been since equalled by McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October, if at all.
Rating: The Good – 78.7 Genre: Thriller Duration: 134 mins Director: Paul Greengrass Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Paul Greengrass channels his high energy ultra real style of direction into the true story of the Maersk Alabama under the command of Captain Richard Phillips and its hijacking by Somalian pirates in 2009. It might sound a bit low key for the director of both The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum but when one considers that the incident culminated in a naval confrontation involving two destroyers and a SEAL team, one begins to appreciate the former wartime documentarian’s interest. A similar predisposition can be discerned within the appetites of its star given that Tom Hanks has, throughout his career, shown a preference for real life characters who have experienced extraordinary events and/or characters who walk a line between tense action drama and inner turmoil. The result is just about everything such a collaboration promises to be.
After a sturdy but efficient introduction to Hanks’ Captain Phillips before he leaves the US for Africa, the film begins switching back and forth between the Somalian pirates as they prepare for their next mission and the Maersk Alabama as its captain and crew set sail. Through these sequences we get to know the two main players: Phillips, the serious-minded but decent company man and Muse, the deceptively diminutive and equally no-nonsense leader of the pirates, played with real electricity by Barkhad Abdi. The stage is set for a tense battle of wills and from the moment the pirates are sighted approaching the ship to the close, Phillips and Muse make for a fascinating pair of adversaries. Hanks for his part is simply terrific and he is pushed all the way by the nascent talent of Abdi who announces himself on the screen with astonishing composure.
There’s no doubt that Greengrass is in his element here as he weaves this central dynamic with a series of spell binding set pieces. There’s an impressive scope to these sequences too ranging from the pirates’ daring attempts to commandeer the ship (and the equally valiant attempts of the crew to stop them) to a scintillating SEAL operation at the apex of the film. There’s an awesome quality to this story that centres on bravery, expertise, and desperation and with the help of Barry Ackroyd’s luscious cinematography and Christopher Rouse’s pulsating editing, Greengrass teases it out with a series of immense images such the SEAL team parachuting towards their objective in near total darkness or the Alabama zigging and zagging in an effort to avoid the pirate skiff. It adds an energy to the film that few movies can equal and combined with the authenticity of everything from the ships to the actions of the various crews, it gives the film a real sense of weight.
However, it’s the the synergy between action and acting that makes Captain Phillips so special and this is best illustrated in the final 20 minutes when Greengrass, his cast of actors, and actual navy personnel work together seamlessly to produce an utterly breathless and remarkably affecting finale – a finale in which Hanks reminds us all of exactly how good an actor he really is. Captain Phillips does run a little long (as is the increasingly irritating trend these days) but this ending, the central pairing of Hanks and Abdi, and the brilliantly held and ever tautening tension more than offsets this single weakness.
Rating: The Good – 77.9 Genre: Thriller Duration: 109 mins Director: Richard Lester Stars: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings
Juggernaut or Terror on the Britannic is one of those forgotten gems of the 70’s, an action thriller that offers both action and thrills in both intricate and mutually complementary style. When a terrorist calling himself “Juggernaut” threatens to blow up a luxurious ocean liner in the middle of a transatlantic journey, Scotland Yard and the ministry of defence mobilise a crack navy bomb disposal unit led by the indomitable Richard Harris. However, stormy seas makes their job difficult at every turn from their dangerous parachute landing to their touch and go efforts to disarm the multiple bombs hidden throughout the ship.
Everything in this thriller is spot on the money. A generous amount of time is dedicated to the set up of the scenario with all sorts of interesting characters being introduced and embellished upon. When the ball starts rolling, it does so in seductive style as the arch villain’s phoned-in instructions are overlapped with images of the on-board efforts of the crew to follow and/or defeat them. The softly sinister voice of Juggernaut (and the procedural reactions it prompts within those on the other end of the line) establishes a wonderfully drawn out rhythm to the action that runs the course of the film right up until the climactic moment. Moreover, that action is fittingly framed by a series of extraordinary sequences such as a preplanned fancy dress party that the passengers and crew go through with despite the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Or that incredible parachute landing which is as original, tense, and well constructed as any action sequence.
Providing a cushioned underlay is a wonderfully mature and luscious screenplay, double-edged, plush with subtext, and transitioning seamlessly from middle-weight reflection to guarded humour depending on the passenger’s mood and momentary considerations but in each case tempered by the overarching circumstance. Harris overflows with one amusing quip after another, each pointed and brilliantly weighing the moral, philosophical, and even ludicrous implications of his line of work. The quips are the definition of cavalier but the man he plays has all sorts of substance hidden underneath which surface at the right times and always in emphatic fashion (“R.E.D. red!”). Just to be clear: Harris is just plain terrific.
Richard Lester’s direction intersects with the spirit of this screenplay and gently captures all the necessary emotions. This gives rise to a forensic tension as opposed to say a breathless one and of course this perfectly plays to the central plot. The cast is rounded out with one classy name after another from Omar Sharif as the erudite captain, Ian Holm as the decent president of the ocean liner’s company, to Anthony Hopkins as the Scotland Yard detective whose family is on board the ship. The latter two don’t get as much screen time as Harris or Sharif but it was the right decision for not a second of this mini-triumph feels wasted or misjudged. Brilliant.
Rating: The Good – 70.2 Genre: Action Duration: 95 mins Director: Andrew V. McLaglen Stars: Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins
North Sea Hijack (also known as ffolkes) is a cracking good action yarn with Roger Moore in rare form as the antithetical Bond character, Rufus Excalibur ffolkes. ffolkes is a cat-loving, woman-hating, and all round eccentric anti-terrorist expert who is charged with eliminating a gang of hijackers who’re threatening to blow up a hugely expensive oil rig. This is a unique movie thanks mainly to the against type hero at the centre of it. It took guts to do it but the pay off is enormous as Moore is as entertaining as an action hero gets. Anthony Perkins is a worthy adversary in the form of the head hijacker and Michael Parks is his usual camera attracting self as his henchman. Even James Mason pops up as one of the crusty old generals who reluctantly goes along with Moore’s seemingly bizarre tactics.
Though ffolkes’ eccentricity ensures some of North Sea Hijack comes off as an action comedy, it’s primarily a straight-up thriller and, indeed, one of the very best to come out of the 80’s. Director Andrew V. McLaglen’s balances the two elements admirably and he builds the tension in a precise steady manner by switching between hijackers and good guys at regular and perfectly timed intervals. Moreover, his handling of the set pieces is superb with the finale in particular being of textbook construction. All in all, North Sea Hijack is what Saturday nights in front of the TV were designed for.
An interesting but problem ridden account of the decisive WWII battle of the pacific sees Carlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford and others go up against their Japanese counterparts in the form of Toshirô Mifune and James Shigeta. The strength of the this film lies in its honest attempt to capture the ebbs and flows of the battle as tactics, mechanical and human error, courage and above all luck played their respective hands. This goes a long way in recreating some of the anxiety and panic that defined the days events. The cast is littered with big names from the aforementioned to Hal Holbrook, Robert Webber, Robert Wagner, Cliff Robertson, James Coburn, and most exciting of all Robert Mitchum. Though they all bring their presence in different ways most of them are mere cameos and so there’s a tendency to feel rather hard done by as the film continues. But that’s only a minor issue compared to major problems which beset this film.
First off, the Japanese characters either speak English in American accents or in most cases they are dubbed by Americans making no attempt to disguise their accents. While this reduces the authenticity which films like Tora! Tora! Tora! achieved so easily it also makes it difficult to discern which sides the various pilots belong to as they radio back to their ships. Even more unfortunate is the shooting of the battle sequences themselves. Pedestrian at best, laughable at worst, they lack any proper coordination and involve bargain basement visual effects. The director Jack Smight is most culpable here and one suspects his decision to incorporate actual dog fighting footage into those scenes was to compensate for the poorness of those effects but in the end, they only destabilise them further.
All this is a shame because the Battle of Midway is an important and critical moment in WWII and no other film before or since has brought the necessary scale to do it justice. That this is what hardened WWII movie fans are left with is frustrating especially give that it could be avoided. However, for those fans alone, Midway’s successful attempt to give a methodical blow by blow account of the day should prove enough reason to give this one a watch.
Cold war drama starring Sidney Poitier as a journalist commissioned to do a story on the US Bedford, a destroyer which under the stern leadership of its task master captain has made a name for itself as a crack soviet sub-hunter. The film begins with Poitier being helicoptered on board in the middle of a dangerous pursuit along with the ship’s new doctor played by Martin Balsam. They soon learn that the only law on this ship is the captain’s and that his fanaticism has bred an elite but tightly wound crew. As Poitier gets to know his man and as Balsam attempts to fit in with the ship’s ultra-modern methods, the Bedford gets embroiled in a dangerous game with its latest quarry, a soviet sub which has illegally entered Greenland’s waters.
Poitier and Balsam are their usual tremendous selves but The Bedford Incident is all about Richard Widmark’s emphatic turn as the insatiable but paranoid Captain Finlander. Through James Poe’s taut screenplay and Widmark’s presence, his character sets the tone so completely that nearly every scene, even when he’s not present, is coloured by him. Echoes of Herman Melville’s Ahab ring louder and louder as Finlander provokes and threatens the soviet sub up and down the coast of Greenland to the increasing dismay and fear of the ship’s recent arrivals and eventually the crew itself.
The Bedford Incident is a cracking high tension representative of an always intriguing genre. The action is much more contained than the traditional WWII naval drama. This is partly due to the fact that the production had less help from the US military in terms of equipment and vehicle provision but mostly because the terseness of the story called for it. This is a film about obsession and the futile attempts of those observing to make sense of it or even stop it. It doesn’t crawl inside the head of the compelled captain but like Moby Dick, it examines it from the point of view of the incredulous onlookers. In this manner, The Bedford Incident becomes a streamlined reflection of the wider anxieties of the times as the governments of two superpowers went head to head in a dangerously deadlocked cold combat to the exasperation of the watching world.
The hermetic tension created to serve these ends works perfectly on a cinematic level too as it hones the already chilling subject matter to a fine point. It’s not the most technically accomplished war film as most of the action is shot in a studio but it makes clever use of what it does offer. However, even if it didn’t, the quality of the drama and the pay-off of its remarkable ending would easily negate such concerns.
Rating: The Good – 81.4 Genre: War Duration: 144 mins Director: Kanji Fukasaku & Richard Fleischer Stars: Martin Balsam, Sô Yamamura, Jason Robards
Bay and Bruckheimer should’ve taken a longer look at this before embarking on their pitiful “Pearl Harbour” project or maybe they simply should’ve realised the story didn’t need retelling at all, given how good it had been told here. Tora! Tora! Tora! recounts the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour from both the American and Japanese perspectives with the American side directed by box-office heavy-weight Richard Fleischer and the Japanese side by master auteur Kinji Fukasaku. The result is a unique and flawless blending of two cinematic styles which itself plays on any number of metaphorical levels. The film depicts the lead up to the attack meticulously, culminating in an epic reconstruction of the air raid. The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood and Japanese film with Martin Balsam and Jason Robards leading the former and So Yamamura and Tatsuya Mihahsi leading the latter. What separates this film from the rest of the war films from its era is the way in which it examines the diplomatic, political, and logistical factors which affected the build up to and outcome of the attack. It’s a meticulous deconstruction of the pretext to and motivations behind one of the most momentous incidents in recent world history not to mention a riveting cinematic platform for the action that was to follow.
Rating: The Good – 75.4 Genre: War Duration: 124 mins Director: Edward Dmytryk Stars: Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson, Lee Marvin
First class naval drama maturely constructed and boasting a sharply effective third act. Humphrey Bogart stars as a strict and fussy new captain to the USS Caine, whose questionable orders begin to worry his officers that they have either a coward or a madman on their hands. When matters come to a head, the executive officer assumes command and finds himself on trial for mutiny.
The Caine Mutiny is an unusual film in that it begins in an extremely light-hearted fashion, almost like a screwball comedy, only to swiftly move through the gears in the final 20 minutes. Bogart deserves special mention for bravely taking on a role which many stars of his status would’ve balked at. Needless to say, this is a different type of turn to his more iconic performances and more similar to his Key Largo and The African Queen performances. He handles it wonderfully and is both intimidating and vulnerable when he needs to be. Van Johnson is a fine foil as the moral centre to the ship while Fred McMurray adds some personality as the crafty trouble maker of the crew. Given the title of the film, it’s somewhat surprising the court-martial hearing is only 10 minutes long but it’s a gripping 10 minutes thanks largely to José Ferrer’s show stealing turn as the lawyer charged with the defence. It’s compelling stuff and it’s through him that the dramatic turnabout in that final act is largely achieved. The extent to which the story panders to Navy sensitivities at that point can be questioned but there’s no doubt that it offers an interesting twist on the traditional concept of mutiny and together with Ferrer’s delivery, it gives that final sequence a mighty punch.
On the technical front, the sea-based manoeuvres are the usual mix of navy assisted shots and real life footage and even though there’s less of it than in other naval films of that era, they provide a strong context for the drama inside the ship. Director Edward Dmytryk provides a cultured hand behind the camera and ensures that a film of extremely contrasting moods comes across seamlessly and enjoyably at all times.
Rating: The Good – 73.3 Genre: War Duration: 97mins Director: Lewis Gilbert Stars: Kenneth More, Dana Wynter, Carl Möhner
Sink the Bismarck is a decent naval thriller about the efforts of the British admiralty to track and destroy the pride of the German navy and the largest destroyer the world ever knew as it breaks into the Atlantic to wreak havoc on the British shipping lanes. The film charts the British war efforts at an interesting point in the second world war as, at the time, the Americans had yet to enter the war and with the defeat of the French, the British were standing alone against the might of Germany’s western advance. Moreover, the Bismarck posed a profound threat to Britain’s one advantage over the Germans, it’s domination over the sea.
The early naval battles in Sink the Bismarck are somewhat confusing as it is sometimes difficult to tell the British and German destroyers apart. Thankfully, however, there is no such problem with the climactic scene and it’s really quite impressive to watch the British fleet converge on the Bismarck from all angles. Most of the drama is played out in the London headquarters of the Admiralty and director Lewis Gilbert switches back and forth from there to the North Atlantic with a well timed ease. Kenneth More and Dana Wynters work very well both together and on their own as the Commander of tactical operations and adjutant respectively, while on the German side of the story, Carl Möhner does a tidy job as the politically ambitious German fleet commander. Sink the Bismarck isn’t the best of the World War II naval dramas but it is a strong representative of the genre and is definitely worth a watch by those who have a passion for the sub-genre.