Crimson Tide

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The three most powerful men in the world: the President of the United States of America; the President of the Russian Republic; and the Captain of a United States ballistic missile submarine.

Crimson Tide is a war film about the United States Navy's nuclear submarine USS Alabama (SSBN-731), which gets sent to the Russian Far East to deter the leader of a Russian civil war, a violent nationalist who may or may not have nuclear weapons to use against the United States.

The main conflict occurs between the boat's executive officer, Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), and The Captain, Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman). Their personalities openly clash, Hunter being the modern Cultured Warrior and Ramsey having similarities to the old-fashioned Sergeant Rock. When their orders are Lost in Transmission, Hunter argues that they should not launch their nuclear weapons until they can confirm the orders. Ramsey fears that would be too risky.

Note on the title: "Crimson Tide" is the nickname for the sports teams at the University of Alabama.


Tropes used in Crimson Tide include:
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Near the end when the two commanders refuse to back down, and just sit around hoping the radio gets fixed... and start having a conversation about leadership, thinly disguised as a discussion on horses, of all things.
  • As You Know: During the attacks by the Akula submarine, one crew member repeatedly asks another what basic combat terms mean. In fairness, this is lampshaded when another crew member asks "How did you get on this ship!?".
  • Backed by the Pentagon - Averted, as they refused a script involving a mutiny. The newscaster had to speak from the French carrier Foch instead of the American one as originally planned.
  • Badass Creed -- This exchange, between the captain and the chief of the boat, spoken to the crew before they board as a sort of creed:

Ramsey: You're aware of the name of this ship [1], aren't you Mister COB?
Walters: Very aware, sir!
Ramsey: It bears a proud name, doesn't it Mister COB?
Walters: Very proud, sir!
Ramsey: It represents fine people!
Walters: Very fine people, sir!
Ramsey: Who live in a fine, outstanding state!
Walters: Outstanding, sir!
Ramsey: In the greatest country in the entire world!
Walters: In the entire world, sir!
Ramsey: And what is that name, Mister COB?
Walters: Alabama, sir!
Ramsey: And what do we say?
Ramsey/Walters: Go Bama!
Crew: Roll Tide!

  • Broken Aesop - See Discussion.
  • The Captain - It may be the Commander-in-chief's Navy, but it's his boat--and if you can't keep up, that strange sensation you feel in the seat of your pants is his boot in your ass.
  • Chekhov's Gun - Many many times. We get a weapons drill followed by the real thing, a mutiny and counter-mutiny (and counter-counter-mutiny), the EAM, the conversations about horses...
    • Averted with the dog. Thank god.
  • Cultured Warrior - Hunter went to Harvard, and likes to ride horses.
  • A Father to His Men - Hunter leads from the bottom up, contrasting with Ramsey's lead from the top style.
  • God Help Us All - The Captain, Ramsey, believes they should launch their nuclear missiles immediately to obliterate the terrorist faction in Russia. Hunter argues that they should get confirmation before starting a nuclear holocaust.

Ramsey: God help you if you're wrong.
Hunter: If I'm wrong, then we're at war. God help us all.

  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Aragorn is friends with Malcolm X whom Tony Soprano would love to shoot. Director Vance is standing by and not sure what to do.
  • Hot Sub-On-Sub Action - The Akula class. Or is it? Bum bum bum.
  • Interservice Rivalry - "I expect and demand your very best. Anything less--you should have joined the Air Force!"
  • Lost in Transmission -- The main conflict revolves around the differing opinions of the captain and the executive officer after they receive an interrupted emergency message that begins "Nuclear missile laun...". Having previously been ordered to launch their nuclear weapons if the Russians launch, and unable to reestablish communications, the captain feels they must launch immediately while the executive officer wants to wait for confirmation of enemy launch.

Weaps: If they order him to launch, we'll launch, and we'll blow 'em all to hell. But I'd rather go down myself than get this one wrong.

  • Mildly Military - Roughly 95% of the movie is utterly bizarre, implausible, and will reduce real submariners to hysterical laughter. Still fun to watch. Some examples:
    • The idea that any captain would order a missile-launching drill while an actual fire had been reported is risible. Any fire is worrisome on shipboard, and doubly so on submarines (due to concerns about confined spaces and limited oxygen). Drills are NEVER run during an actual casualty.
      • Additionally, once a fire has been reported onboard a warship that fire is treated as still in-progress until after a) the damage control team has reported to the bridge that the fire is confirmed out and b) the spot where the fire occurred has been kept under "reflash watch" for a period of time after it is extinguished to confirm that the fire hasn't restarted. Due to the fact that heat dissipates slowly from inside enclosed metal compartments, it is entirely possible for a fire that's been put out to spontaneously start up all over again... because the temperature in the compartment is still too high, and flammable materials are still present. For every fire onboard ship, even a minor one, there is at least one guy with a fire extinguisher doing nothing but sitting and watching that spot for half an hour or more after the damage control party has finished putting out the immediate fire.
    • The entire conflict between Ramsey and Hunter prior to the missile launch crisis is artificially inflated for pure rule of drama. In real life, if a CO and an XO have disagreements the absolute last thing either officer will do is air those disagreements anywhere except to each other in private, let alone mutter them to the enlisted men behind each other's backs. They will do these even if they absolutely despise each other, because undermining a senior officer's authority in public indirectly damages every other officer's authority as well -- including their own. Hunter's derogatory comments about Ramsay to both the messcook in the galley and the Chief of the Boat should have had him relieved of his post about two minutes after they were first brought to Ramsay's attention.
      • This one is defensible because in order to react to it, the captain first has to be told about it. A lower-ranking enlisted man like the messcook is almost certainly going to decide that the best idea when the two most senior officers on the boat are getting into a vendetta is to do absolutely nothing to draw attention to himself, in addition to the fact that he has no chance to speak to the captain without going through the entire chain of command above him first -- which includes the XO. The Chief of the Boat, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to fear by getting involved (not only is there very little you can threaten a master chief of his seniority with unless he actually commits a serious violation of regs, but bringing word to the captain of things going wrong is actually part of his job) and can easily get in to see the captain at any time -- but because he works directly with the captain every day, its entirely possible that COB agreed with Hunter's opinion of him.
    • There are at least three separate points in the movie where the submarine sustains damage that would logically require the next scene to be "fade to black, loud crunching noises, roll credits". Of course, this being a movie, the damage is repaired by sailors jiggling the controls and heroically banging on things. In reality? If your engine room is flooded, your sub is dead. If you've lost reactor power, battery power, and the ability to do an emergency blow of your ballast tanks all simultaneously, your sub is dead. If you have water in the people tank in both the rear section and the front section simultaneously, then no matter what else is going on your sub is dead, dead, so very very dead.
    • The entire scene with the Weapons Officer and the key is pure plot contrivance. In reality, a minimum of three men would have access to that safe. One of those men would be the guy who was trying to threaten Weaps to open that safe at gunpoint. The captain has access to EVERYTHING, that's why he's the captain.
    • You'd like to think that at around the time the captain was threatening to murder innocent crewmembers in cold blood to intimidate another one of his subordinates into compliance, the men standing around him would go '... o-kay, I think I know which one of the two senior officers on this boat is the crazy one, and its not the XO. Now, how do we get that pistol away from Captain Insano here so we can get him down to sick bay and get him strapped to a bunk and tranquilized?'
    • Bilge bay? What is this thing called a "bilge bay"?
  • Military Maverick - Captain Ramsey.
  • Mnogo Nukes
  • The Mutiny
  • New Meat - Subverted: Hunter is new to this boat, but is very experienced.
    • Experienced on non-combat situations that is. A major part of the conflict is that Hunter is experienced but too young to have seen real action, whereas Ramsey is stated to be one of the last officers in the Navy with experience of war.
      • Given that the last time US submarines were exposed to combat action was World War II, either Captain Ramsay wasn't always in submarines or the scriptwriter had a Critical Research Failure.
  • Newscaster Cameo - Richard Valeriani, a long-time White House correspondent, played himself reporting the backstory leading to the plot.
  • A Nuclear Error - The captain of a US nuclear submarine was, until recently, permitted to release his nuclear weapons if he could not communicate with the President after the order to arm the warheads was given. In 1995, this was also the Russian policy for sub commanders.
    • Played straight in that the movie completely ignored the existence of the nuclear triad - given the tactical situation, it would have made far more sense to use a land-based silo for a retaliatory launch or a Stealth bomber for a pre-emptive strike.
    • For that matter, given that the Russian missiles in question are being fueled and prepped for launch by a general who's gone rogue, why aren't the Russians already nuking him? They're far closer to the spot marked X than we are, have an equally vested interest in not letting some psychopath unilaterally start World War III, and have a fine selection of tactical nuclear warhead options mounted on various delivery systems.
      • In addition to the fact that firing the nuke themselves allows the Russians far more control over where its actually going to land than by trusting us to shoot one towards Russian territory. I mean, fuck, we'd hardly trust the Russians to do it if the situation was reversed and Russian institutional paranoia makes US institutional paranoia look tame.
      • You'd think 'Some rebel psycho has just stolen one of my strategic missiles bases and is an unknown number of hours away from being launch ready, and there is a nontrivial possibility he'll just start flipping them around at random once he is' is a situation that would result in a quick conference call between the heads of state for all the UN Security Council permanent member nations, immediately followed by General Insano's eating a nuclear strike from whichever nation was in best position to deliver one first.
  • Peace Through Superior Firepower - "We're going over there, and bringing the most lethal killing machine ever devised. We're capable of launching more firepower than has ever been released in the history of war. For one purpose alone: to keep our country safe."
  • Race Against the Clock -- For the captain this trope is literal. The Russians have begun fueling their missiles and so they will be ready to launch in one hour. If that's correct, then he needs to launch preemptively.
  • Rousing Speech -- Subverted when Hunter tells the Captain that the crew may need a pat on the back to improve morale, the Captain makes an immediate boat-wide speech that essentially says "man up or get off the boat".

Ramsey: May I have your attention, please. Mr. Hunter has brought it to my attention that morale may be a bit low, that you may be a bit... 'on edge'. So I suggest this: Any crewmember who feels he can't handle the situation can leave the ship right now. Gentlemen, we're at Defcon 3. War is imminent! This is the captain. That is all.
Hunter: Very inspiring, sir.

Hunter: Well I'm Captain Kirk, you're Scotty, I need more power.

    • Hunter states to a crew member, "anyone who reads comic books knows that the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer."
  • This Is Not a Drill - When they really do get the order to be on standby. Played with as there was a drill before.
  • War Is Hell -- Espoused by Hunter. "In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself."
  • With Due Respect
  • World War III - Averted.
  1. The correct Navy nomenclature for a submarine is actually "boat"