The Rock (1996)
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Few action movies carries as much morality and questionable circumstances as this one. In The Rock we follow a furious general (Ed Harris) leading a group of Marines to take control of Alcatraz Island (along with tourist hostages), a location that used to house criminals. Accompanying them are over a dozen missiles that can spell tens of thousands of innocent lives with every blast. However, he isn't just a trigger-happy man gone crazy, he is a man seeking justice for the dozens of lives he saw taken from warfare without compensation. A villain with a "moral" agenda, yikes. The only hope for the United States is the only man that has ever broken out of that prison (Sean Connery) and a chemical "superfreak" (Nicholas Cage). With the odds obviously against them, the Pentagon is one order away from destroying the entire location regardless of the innocent lives located in the island. Mindless this movie is not, as the stakes are high, there is always a risk of an innocent life going under, and our heroes rarely ever have the scenario under control. It's just enough to make you squeal in frustration.
With the tension remaining edgy and the solution never being oh-so-close, we can thank the writers for delivering a slam-bang storyline full of great one-liners, likable characters, and a villain that isn't as simple to figure out as the average evildoer. The writing staff ranges from the writer of the third Die Hard to even Tarantino. A major reason for the film's quality is the casting. Sean Connery and Ed Harris are excellent in their roles and Nicholas Cage albeit a few lines does a good job. The supporting staff helps as well, as we see the likes of David Morse, John Spencer, and Cage's love interest Vanessa Marcil.
Unlike Michael Bay's latest films, which run from mediocre to just plain bad, he blends plenty of drama and suspense along with action here. As a matter of fact, the first half of the movie is all suspense, as the situation is developed, and the risks are presented. Disregarding a superb car chase, there isn't much exploding in the first 80 minutes. However, once the protagonists enter the Rock, it all goes on the uphill action swing. We get brutal fights, brutal shootouts, near-misses, double-crosses, triple-crosses, chases, and enough explosions for action fans to sink their teeth into. The funny thing, the two main actors at the time weren't expected to be in such action. Connery was aging, and Nicholas Cage just didn't have the look or the attitude for it. Fortunately for us, they proved us dead wrong.
Bottom Line: If you want to see a true action classic, The Rock is a great example. Rising above the average action movie and above the decent ones as well, this is by far Michael Bay's best work and one of the signature flicks of the 90s. Combining tension you can cut with a steak knife with thrills, chills, and plenty of carnage, The Rock has aged well and continues to influence the work of modern action movies and the work of Michael Bay as well. Grab some popcorn and enjoy this ruthlessly clever movie. Recommend to the max, as long as you don't mind a bit of blood spewing onto the screen. They just don't make em' like they used to.
The plot takes a number of twists and turns along the road, so to discuss almost any aspect of it in detail would require at least mild spoilers. None of the plot twists are unbelievable if you are willing to accept the basic premise. The story begins with Ed Harris - a Viet Nam war hero and field leader who is now a general and has become fed up with the abandonment of covert forces operatives by the US government. To get what he wants, he recruits some of the best officers under his command to take control of and hold Alcatraz Island, holding 70-some-odd civilians hostage and aiming four missiles loaded with deadly Sarin gas directly at the heart of San Francisco.
Biehn heads an elite Navy SEAL team assigned to infiltrate and disable Harris' capabilities. Cage joins him as the FBI biochemical specialist assigned the task of disarming the warheads, and the only man who can get them in to do their respective jobs is an aging British intelligence agent who has been incarcerated for 30 years or so by the government that now needs his help. Connery's John Mason escaped from Alcatraz during his incarceration, and for all intents and purpose - is a much rougher, more real James Bond character without the gadgets and the comic-book super-villains. All of the above is established in the first ten minutes of the film and the next two hours is a wild ride, with some very tense moments and some very intense performances.
I'm sure a lot of people will pick this film apart for the occasional unbelievable scene, etc, but it's worth while to remember - as my spouse is always telling me - "its only a movie".
If you want reality, take a walk outside or go to work!
There are no discernible powerful political messages in this film. While it must be acknowledged that the USA does sometimes treat members of its armed forces in an unappreciative and cavalier manner, this film does not really drive this point home in the way that, for example, Saving Private Ryan did. While it is also true that the US government does occasionally cover-up its own illegal activities, or soft-pedal them with propagandistic white lies, these issues are not really the subject of this film. This is made abundantly clear by the oddly out-of-place references to Roswell, New Mexico. The writers either did not want to dignify any perceived political messages by bringing up real-world transgressions and cover-ups - many of which are far more sinister than the secret development of stealth planes. This film is pure entertainment and - at that - a work of art. Treat it as such and you might just have a good time with it.
The best quote of this movie: "This isn't about terrorism, this about justice. It's about reminding you people of something you find politically convenient to forget."
When else would you see a 60+ year old retired SAS agent who's been wrongfully banged up for 30 years and kept away from his daughter, break back into Alcatraz (after successfully breaking out all those years ago), take out an entire SEAL team almost empty handed, save 81 hostages held at gun point and a city of 5 Million held ransom with 15 deadly poisonous VX gas rockets?? Generally excellent acting by Ed Harris as you could expect and an almost convincing performance by Nicolas Cage.
...and thats just the half of it.
While The Rock is essentially an action flick that most of the time doesn't take itself too seriously, its perfect blend of all the ingredients required suffices to make it an enthralling experience. With more and more movies actually failing to know what the term 'Action' really means (don't ask me how such a thing is possible, but it seems most producers have forgotten how to make a simple movie nowadays), The Rock definitely stands out as the best action movie, even 8 years after its release. The only other movie that actually manages to be somewhat on par with it in the genre is Broken Arrow, which was also released in 96.
Bashed by many for unrealism and choppy dialogues in some instances, The Rock is still an awesome film. I could point out that the flaws listed by the other reviews plague all action movies without a single exception. Instead of looking for flaws you are certain to find in a movie, and a mere action flick at that, wouldn't it be better to like the movie for what it goes out of its way to provide? And by this, I'm referring to the excellent acting with even the minor roles being beautifully played (David Morse and Micheal Biehn spring to mind), the pumped-up action scenes, and the nice touch of humour.
The movie's real asset however is Ed Harris, even beyond Sean Connery. His portrayal of a disgruntled general who's fed up with the way his men are treated by the Pentagon definitely ranks among his best roles. He simply wipes away all the actors, although I do need to stress on how this movie has a truly astounding cast. David Morse is also excellent as Major Baxter who's dedicated to Hummel, and all of the ex-Marines do have that military feel about them.
On another note, I was particularly pleased to see Micheal Biehn as SEAL leader Commander Anderson, although it is a shame how he was killed off so quickly. You don't get to see a whole lot of him, but like all the actors, he is superb in his role, and I do get the feeling he would have been ever better had he been given a role that required more time on-screen. However, his death does serve a purpose, and shows how ludicrous the US Government's behaviour really is as far as fallen soldiers are concerned.
Of course, as far as plot goes, The Rock is pretty average, but even then it has some nice touches other action movies would love to steal. The character development is particularly surprising since that's not a thing I would expect in an action movie. Hummel's stance on the mission is the biggest point in the story, and, upon seeing how he reacts and how he will not kill innocents, it's no surprise he's everybody's favourite character throughout the movie. His refusal to dispatch the rockets is perhaps a tad predictable (as Connery himself points out to Cage), but it results in my second favourite scene of the movie where the mutiny starts and Hummel himself is killed.
Another intense scene, and my favourite by far, is the shower scene where the Marines wipe out Anderson's team. In addition to the intensity and viciousness of the scene, we also catch a first glimpse of Hummel's real character. Likewise, several scenes have a unique feeling to them, and this is one of the few movies where the filler doesn't seriously detract from the movie as a whole.
The Rock is also a movie with terrific music; my favourite soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith, with Harry Gregson-Williams and Don Harper doing some additional tracks. The result is truly awesome, and really shows what Zimmer can do with good material.
More importantly, The Rock will always stand out as the movie that so superbly combined the music with the images. As an example, the first 5 minutes of the movie, which are accompanied by 'Hummel Gets The Rockets' and are actually synchronised with it, totally blew my away. I had never seen images and music so expertly combined while flowing so smoothly and with impeccable transition, and yet, The Rock managed to do that. Add to this all the pros of the movie, and it's no wonder The Rock is still considered as a turning point both in the action genre and in Hans Zimmer's career (though not as big as Crimson Tide).
Because of all these, it is not only my favourite action movie, but indeed my favourite movie ever, its main advantage being that it's a flick I can watch over and over again without getting bored. And that's also where its asset of being a mere action powerhouse effectively jumps in.
Starring: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Jon Spencer, David Morse, William Forsythe, Bokeem Woodbine, and Vanessa Marcil. Directed by Michael Bay. Running time: 135 minutes. Rated R (for strong intense violence, language and brief sexuality)
Notes taken while screening The Rock:
· The film contains superior character development of both the antagonist and protagonist. Each is clear and well defined. We also learn the characters motives, reasoning, dramatic situation, and premise--all brilliantly introduced within the setup.
· Sean Connery provides us with strong character development through John Patrick Mason--although the character is somewhat a rip off of the Anthony Hokins' Hannibal from "The Silence of the Lambs."
· It is uncanny how well the movie's visual style works. It propels the film's suspense the extra mile, increasing the tension and enticement. Also contributing to the style is the fitting soundtrack.
· Some of the events are excessively coincidental. For example, during an exciting chase scene, Mason dashes out of a building, escaping the clutches of concealing police, discovering a Hum-V seemingly awaiting his arrival. Experienced chemist, Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), chases after him, in a high speed Ferrari sitting outside his position in a building. Another coincidence occurs in the high security prison, where Mason escapes a grenade blast by dashing at random into a room, where, of course, there just so happens to be a secure bathtub to climb in.
· There is a stolid, aggressively effective cast present. Each actor contributes a taut, penetrating performance, especially Ed Harris as the film's villain, General Francis X. Hummel who demands a moral purpose holding the lives of an urban area at stake.
* The character's motives and perfectly defined, especially General Francis X. Hummel. Even as the film's bad guy, he serves an understandable position, thus we empathize with him, unlike most villains witnessed in modern day thrillers.
· The standard three act structure is flawless: each scene propels the plot forward. The sequences either create a new problem or complicate a previous conflict, favoring with the later concept. This raises the line of tension even further.
· Most of the production takes place in a high security prison, Alcatraz, crafted with a complex, awe-inspiring atmosphere towering over that of most action movies.
· Sean Connery handles the complicated role of John Mason with mere simplicity, yet easily torments the audience with a sense of omniscient knowledge of the plot.
· The picture is unpredictable and contains several inducing and unexpected twists proving this movie is imaginative and free to surprise us. The conclusion is not fomulatic. "The Rock" is filled with artful design and crafty performances. It is one of the year's best action films.
Brought to you by Hollywood Pictures.