Before the empathic brows of John Krasinski, the firm confidence of Chris Pine, the flustered jawline of Ben Affleck or the defiant pointing of Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin was the premier face of Tom Clancy’s legendarily honest CIA agent when he made his big screen debut.
The movie was The Hunt For Red October and to date it’s still the best outing for the character so far – but the reasons behind this are a little strange; you see, while other the other stories shoved Ryan front and centre to reluctantly deal with the likes of IRA splinter fractions, presidential skullduggery and nuclear tomfoolery, his premier appearance kept him more as part of an ensemble.
It’s a wise move on both the part of Clancy and veteran director of cinematic ass-kickery John McTiernan to keep honest man Jack as exemplary backup because there’s not much else that could overshadow Sean Connery as a rogue Russian submarine captain – so why try?
Suspiciously Scottish sounding Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius is awarded the command of a brand spanking new Typhoon Class ballistic missile submarine, the Red October that boasts all mod cons and a super secret stealth drive that allows it to travel at will without fear of detection. Ramius repays this promotion by murdering the on-board political officer and, unbeknownst to the vast majority of his crew, steers the sub in the direction of the USA and slams it into high gear in order to deflect as fast as he can before anyone figures out what he’s up to.
Trying to avoid the sub helmed by past student Captain Tupolev, not to mention the USS Dallas, who is stationed to track Russian subs the moment they leave port, Ramius gambles everything – and I mean everything – on his veteran skills and barmy plan.
Meanwhile, CIA analyst Jack Ryan, at the behest of his baritone-chested mentor Vice Admiral James Greer, briefs government officials on the threat the Red October poses, but while they assume Ramius is on a collision course with the US in order to unleash its nuclear payload on an unsuspecting American city, Ryan figures out Marko’s actual plan and tries to convince everyone that he can.
It seems he does too good a job however, as his hunch gets him choppered out into the middle of the ocean to rendezvous with the USS Dallas to advise it’s no-nonsense Commander Bart Mancuso on Raimus’ on what he might do next – but with pushbacks on all sides, plus the Soviets suggesting that Marko may have had some sort of breakdown, Ryan’s going to have his work cut out for him the longer this multi-playered game of global cat and mouse continues.
Before The Hunt For Red October, director John McTiernan was known for his work in the action genre thanks to the legendary reputations of Predator and Die Hard: two flawless works of muscular genius that hurled subtlety out the window like John McClane dropping a body on the bonnet of Sergeant Al Powell. However, to adapt Clancy’s novel, a modicum of tact would have to be used alongside that slick visual style (provided by non other than Jan De Bont) that would utilise Die Hard’s style of having an extended community outside the confines of the Nakatomi Plaza and ply it to international intrigue. Basically, there are multiple plotlines all going on at the same time with any one of them able to sustain the movie in it’s own, but the movie wisely puts the effort in to include as many as it can to give you that experience of multiple wheels turning on the world stage when shit gets scary.
Surprisingly (at least for someone who saw three other Jack Ryan movies before seeing this one), Ryan himself is kind of set slightly to the side; absolutely vital to the plot as he diligently strains to iron things out, but deliberately marginalised by both the other characters and his own screen time in order to ingeniously keep us guessing as to whether he’s actually going to be able to pull this off. It’s not a trick you could have tried with Harrison Ford, for example (Ford? Fail? Unthinkable!) but it works a treat with Alec Baldwin’s version as the character’s laser focused skills are often misconstrued as egotism – something Baldwin can do particularly well while still being sympathetic. The same could be said from Scott Glen’s curmudgeonly but still.open minded American sub captain as he strives to track the Red October while this young CIA punk pleads that he questions everything he knows in order to avoid a catastrophe on this watery world’s stage. However, there’s no question of who the actual star of the movie is with a quick glance of the poster revealing the stern face of Sean Connery and precious little else. Still, despite his trademark scottish brogue managing to show through even when he’s speaking Russian, there’s not many people who can hold the screen quite like him and the continuing game of chicken he’s playing with his own crew (how do you hand over an entire fucking submarine over without it’s own crew realising what’s happening) is the film’s backbone as his remarkably familiar comrades (Tim Curry! Sam Neill! Stellan Skarsgärd!) help or hinder his progress.
It all comes together extraordinarily nicely and while the tense sub scenes are regrettably no match for that other high powered 90’s sub thriller, Crimson Tide, the movie effortlessly has you chewing your nails down to the bone at regular intervals with a questionable winching of Ryan during a raging storm and a final act gunfight scoring high on having you scoot to the edge of your seat.
Full of nifty storytelling tricks such as the Russian characters starting off speaking their own language before morphing into english mid-sentence until they final segue back to Russian when they finally get to share scenes with english speaking Americans (glorious), the reason The Hunt For Red October is the best Jack Ryan movie is because Jack Ryan isn’t the focal point of the movie as he battle uphill from the periphery of the story, earning his place in the story until he emerges front and centre in the final reel as the hero we needed all along.
Ford, Affleck and Pine are great, but they’re also top billed, Baldwin isn’t even on the fucking poster and it’s this attitude that cements his little fish in a big pond style as he verbally grapples with heavyweights for the greater good.
In other words; Ryan be flyin’ when he be tryin’.