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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.
- 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 originally planned american one.
- 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 , 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 and unable to reestablish communications, the captain feels they must launch immediately, while the executive officer wants to wait for confirmation.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Captain had played this straight before the crew boarded, but did promise a boot in the ass of anyone who couldn't keep up.
- Russians With Rusting Rockets
- Seinfeldian Conversation -- These pop culture conversations were apparently added by Quentin Tarantino, who was a script doctor for this film:
- Rivetti gets into an argument over which Silver Surfer is the best one.
- Dougherty and some other officers talk about submarine movies, including The Enemy Below.
- Hunter invokes Star Trek the Original Series to encourage Vossler to work as fast as possible.
Hunter: Well I'm Captain Kirk, you're Scotty, I need more power.
- 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.
- ↑ The correct Navy nomenclature for a submarine is actually "boat"