CRIMSON TIDE. Buena Vista Pictures, 1995. Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Matt Craven, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Rocky Carroll. Director: Tony Scott.

   Postmodern inter-textual awareness is the name of the game in Crimson Tide, a Tony Scott-directed war movie set almost exclusively on board an American nuclear submarine. There’s dialogue early on in the film, due largely to uncredited rewrites by Quentin Tarantino, that deliberately makes the viewer sit up, pay attention, and acknowledge that they are watching not only a war movie, but a specific sub-genre within that genre: the submarine film.

   As members of the crew wait upon a bus ready to transport them to the submarine, they engage in casual banter about submarine movies, referencing not only Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens in The Enemy Below (1957), but also Cary Grant’s appearance in submarine films and Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

   The question is, why? Why have characters draw attention to the fact that their mission parallels stories told in cinematic war classics? It’s not typical for an action film to consciously draw that much attention to itself. But in this case, it not only works, but it works extraordinarily well in giving the proceedings a real edge. It serves to tell the viewer that what they’re about to watch doesn’t stand alone, but is part of a larger tradition in American war cinema.

   That’s not say that the movie wouldn’t have worked without this pop culture postmodern awareness. Far from it. Stars Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington are both on the top of their game as officers on board the U.S.S. Alabama. The two men couldn’t be more different. Captain Frank Ramsey (Hackman) is a jaded, solitary man, his only friend in the world his dog. He sees the world as a dark, hostile place and believes it’s the duty of Naval officers to destroy the enemy before the enemy destroys you.

   Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Washington) is younger, more cerebral, and a family man who believes that, in the nuclear age, the real enemy is war itself. When the crew is ordered to make preparations for a preemptive nuclear attack on a rogue Russian military base, it’s only a matter of time between the two men’s worldviews come into stark conflict.

   Well-directed and superbly acted, Crimson Tide also benefits immensely from a score by Hans Zimmer. Fans of The Sopranos and NCIS will appreciate seeing James Gandolfini and Rocky Carroll in supporting roles.

   As much as I enjoyed the movie – particularly the manner in which Hackman embodies his character with such gruff, stubborn conviction – I can’t say that it’s a film that necessitates repeated viewings. But for a fun, exciting ride, Crimson Tide delivers all the goods that one would want in an action film that doesn’t remotely insult the viewer’s intelligence.