The Rock (1996) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Stanley Goodspeed, who lives in Washington D.C., is a biochemist who works for the FBI. Soon after his fiancée Carla Pestalozzi announces that she is pregnant, Stanley gets a call from FBI director James Womack. Womack tells Stanley that San Francisco's Alcatraz Island has been taken hostage, along with 81 tourists, by marine General Francis Xavier Hummel who, for years, has been protesting the government's refusal to pay benefits to families of war veterans who died during covert military operations. The death of his wife Barbara Hummel on March 9, 1995 drove General Hummel over the edge, and now he's holding hostages in order to get his point across. Stanley is needed because General Hummel has stolen some VX gas warheads and has announced that he will launch them onto San Francisco unless his demands are met. Stanley knows how to disarm the bombs, but Stanley needs someone who knows Alcatraz well enough to get him inside. That man is former British intelligence agent John Patrick Mason, who has been in prison for the past 30 years without a trial because he was accused of stealing the private files of J. Edgar Hoover. In 1962, John became the only inmate ever to escape from Alcatraz, and he stayed out of Alcatraz long enough to father a daughter named Jade Angelou. Despite his extreme hatred of the FBI, John agrees to help Stanley. When John and Stanley are sent into Alcatraz with a Navy SEAL team, General Hummel's men kill the entire SEAL team, leaving Stanley and John to work on their own to rescue the hostages.

  • A group of renegade marine commandos seizes a stockpile of chemical weapons and takes over Alcatraz, with 81 tourists as hostages. Their leader, a former highly-decorated U.S. general, demands $100 million to be paid in ransom, as restitution to families of Marines who died in covert operations and were thereby denied compensation. Otherwise, he is threatening to launch 15 rockets carrying deadly VX nerve gas into the San Francisco Bay area. An elite SEAL team, with support from an FBI chemical warfare expert (Stanley Goodspeed) and a former Alcatraz escapee (John Patrick Mason), is assembled to penetrate the terrorists' defenses on Alcatraz and neutralize the rocket threat before time runs out.

  • It's a quiet day in San Francisco. There are 81 civilians on a tour of Alcatraz, the prison famous for the fact that no prisoner had ever successfully escaped. During one of the tours, marine General Francis Xavier Hummel takes the civilians hostage, with the help of other marines. He has 15 rockets of deadly V.X. gas at his disposal, ready to launch at San Francisco. His reason for doing this is simple: he has seen Marines under his command get killed in combat without a military burial or benefits to their families. He makes a threat to the FBI: give the fallen Marines recognition or he will launch the V.X. rockets. After learning that one rocket is enough to take out sixty or seventy thousand people, the FBI sends for their top Chemical Weapons expert: Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, engaged to his pregnant girlfriend. While trying to figure out a countermeasure to the current situation, the FBI is forced to resort to John Patrick Mason, an ex-con who broke out of Alcatraz in 1962.

  • Marine General Francis Xavier Hummel has spent most of his career carrying out covert operations, but there's no record of these operations. Over the years, nearly a hundred of his men have been killed or left behind, and they have not received any recognition. After trying to get them that through normal channels, Hummel now decides that it's time for drastic measures. He and some other marines take some rockets that are equipped with a biological weapon. They then go on a tour of Alcatraz, and take the tourists hostage. He then calls the Pentagon and informs them that unless they pay him 100 million dollars as reparation for him, he will launch the rockets. Now the Pentagon doesn't want to capitulate. So they decide to send in a team of Navy Seals. Now they need someone who knows Alcatraz and the best person they could find is John Patrick Mason, a man who escaped from Alcatraz, and who has been in every prison in the U.S. for the past 30 years. Also accompanying them is Stanley Goodspeed, an FBI chemical weapons expert. When they go in, the Marines ambush the Seals. Only Mason and Goodspeed are left, and the two have to try and neutralize the weapons. Only problem is, that Goodspeed is not really a man of action and Mason knows that when he returns, he will be sent back to prison, and Mason doesn't really deserve that.

  • A group of U.S. marines, under command of a renegade general, take over Alcatraz and threaten San Francisco Bay with biological weapons. A chemical weapons specialist and the only man to have ever escaped from the Rock are the only ones who can prevent chaos.

  • A mild-mannered chemist and an ex-con must lead the counterstrike when a rogue group of military men, led by a renegade general, threaten a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz against San Francisco.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • On a rainy morning at Arlington National Cemetery, Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) visits the grave of his wife, Barbara, who had recently passed away from an illness. He tells her that he misses her, but there is something he has to do now, and most of the world isn't going to like it. He hopes that wherever she is, she understands why he had to take the action he plans to. After saying a final goodbye, he places his Medal of Honor on the headstone and kisses it before he leaves.

    Later that night, Hummel leads a group of rogue Force Recon Marines on a raid of a Naval Weapons Depot. They seize a stockpile of rockets armed with weapons grade O-ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid, more commonly known as VX gas. They lose one of their men in the process, a horrific death caused by an accidental release of the chemical when one of the canisters was dropped and a sphere containing the deadly substance shatters. Hummel and his second-in-command, Major Tom Baxter (David Morse) have no choice but to leave the room sealed with their man inside.

    In an FBI lab in Washington DC, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is called in to inspect a package sent to Bosnian refugees. He and a trainee, Marv Isherwood (Todd Louiso), find a small doll inside that sprays them with sarin gas and contains a bomb made of C4 explosive that could destroy the lab and kill everyone in the building. As Stanley works frantically to disarm the bomb he turns down a hypodermic needle loaded with a dose of atropine. Stanley disarms the bomb successfully. At home that night, he relaxes until his girlfriend, Carla (Vanessa Marcil) arrives home. He tells her about his experience and mentions that because the world is so cruel and violent that anyone considering having children is being foolish. She tells him she's pregnant and Stanley, stunned, tells her he's happy. When she proposes to him, he accepts.

    Hummel is joined by other Marines who have served him over the course of his career; Major Tom Baxter, who he served with in Vietnam, Captain Hendrix (John C. McGinley), who he served with in the Gulf, and Captains Frye (Gregory Sporleder) and Darrow (Tony Todd), who organized the raid on the weapons depot. They seize Alcatraz Island and take 81 tourists hostage, placing them in the prison cells, then threatening the FBI and Pentagon with launching the VX rockets against the population of San Francisco, unless the government pays ransom and reparations to the families of Marines who died on illegal, clandestine Marine Force Recon missions ("Black Ops") that were commanded by General Hummel.

    After Goodspeed makes love to Carla, he receives a call telling him to report to San Francisco. He assures her that it is probably just a training exercise, and they can be married there when it is finished. When he arrives, he is greeted by senior agent Ernest Paxton (William Forsythe) and Bureau Director James Womack (John Spencer). They brief him on the situation, asking him to consult. Goodspeed agrees, but asks Paxton for a gun having left his own sidearm at home. SEAL Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn) offers to lead an incursion team to the island to neutralize the warheads and free the hostages. In need of reliable first-hand knowledge of the physical layout of Alcatraz, Womack is forced to turn to long-time federal prisoner John Mason (Sean Connery), the only former inmate of Alcatraz to ever successfully escape. There is a considerable amount of bad blood between Mason and Womack, so Goodspeed is tasked with talking to him. Mason is willing to cooperate, however, shortly after he signs his pardon, Womack tears it up. Goodspeed notes that while they were talking to Mason he mentioned the names of several historical figures who were wrongfully imprisoned like Nelson Mandela, Sir Walter Raleigh, Archimedes and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Womack brushes it off, accusing Goodspeed of asking too many questions.

    Part of Mason's agreement includes a short stay at a luxury suite at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. He calls in a large amount of food to distract his minders. Out on the suite's balcony, Mason, while shaking on the deal he made with Womack, slips a rope around Womack's wrist and throws him over the side, holding the rope. When Goodspeed calls the other agents to help him pull Womack to safety, Mason escapes. He steals a Humvee from a hotel patron and drives recklessly through San Francisco, colliding with cars and other obstacles to block their pursuit. He finally makes it to the Palace of Fine Arts and meets with his daughter, Jade (Claire Forlani). The two seem to reconcile, Jade being bitter after her mother's death and Mason's (unintentional) abandonment. Goodspeed shows up and tells Mason they have to rejoin the FBI team. Upon their return, Goodspeed learns that he himself will accompany Mason and the incursion team to Alcatraz, despite his minimal combat training and fear of deep water. Paxton appeases him by having his men get Carla to safety.

    With Mason's guidance, the SEAL incursion team successfully infiltrates Alcatraz mostly undetected, but as they work their way through the tunnels of Alcatraz and enter the shower room, their presence is discovered by sophisticated warning equipment set up by Hummel's men. Hummel attempts to talk Anderson down, but Frye and Darrow grow impatient and open fire, leaving only Mason and Goodspeed alive. With Mason deciding to leave the island, Goodspeed must reveal the true purpose of the mission. Realizing his daughter's life is at risk, Mason agrees to stay and help.

    They begin the process of seeking out and disabling the 15 rockets one-by-one, traveling through the underground catacombs to avoid detection. They find them in the morgue and Goodspeed begins the painstaking process of removing the guidance chip from each missile. With the VX spheres arranged in a delicate configuration the work is slow and precise. While he removes the chips, he explains to Mason what the effects of VX are on the human body. After twelve rockets are sabotaged by Goodspeed and Mason, Captain Hendrix is ordered to take a fireteam down to the catacombs, resulting in a pitched battle in which Goodspeed uses lethal force for the first time. After learning that Hendrix's squad has been killed, Hummel threatens to execute one of the hostages unless the guidance chips of the sabotaged rockets are returned to him. Goodspeed grapples with the idea of surrendering the chips for a few moments until Mason destroys the chips, then surrenders to Hummel to buy time for Goodspeed to disable more rockets. During a tense confrontation in the prison courtyard, Mason insinuates that Hummel is actually insulting the memory of his fallen soldiers by threatening innocent civilians, and tests the general's resolve by calling him an idiot and denouncing his sense of patriotism as "a virtue of the vicious." (quoting Oscar Wilde). Hummel angrily strikes Mason and prepares to shoot him in the head, but instead orders him locked up. Goodspeed is able to disable the thirteenth rocket just before he is captured. Meanwhile, realizing that the SEAL team is lost, the Pentagon readies a backup plan; an attack by armed F-18s that will neutralize the poison gas by releasing Thermite plasma bombs, which would also kill everyone on the island.

    Paxton confronts Womack, asserting that given the severity of the situation, he has earned the right to know why Mason was imprisoned, and why Womack hates him so much. Womack reveals that Mason was a Captain for the British SAS who stole a microfilm containing serious secrets about U.S. and other world leaders and events. The information came from the personal files of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Mason was captured at the Canadian border and refused to divulge the location of the microfilm. After being disavowed by the SAS, he was kept locked up without benefit of trial, and told he would not be released until he gave up the microfilm. After Hoover died, the agency became a different beast, but it also became harder to come clean about the incident, so Mason remained locked away and forgotten.

    Mason is imparting this same information to Goodspeed as he fashions the bedding of his cell into a knotted rope with a wheel caster tied to the end for weight. He explains that the government had no intention of ever letting him go; had he given up the microfilm, they would have simply killed him, making his death look like suicide. Goodspeed furiously asks how he managed to get out of the cell in the first place. An annoyed Mason ignores the question, simply throwing the rope until it finally hits a security switch that unlocks their cell doors. Once they have safely made it to the beach, Mason again decides to leave the island, convinced that Hummel is only bluffing. Goodspeed insists that the military will need more than Mason's assumption to call off the airstrike, and he will finish the mission alone if he has to. Goodspeed is captured before he can find another rocket, but he's rescued by Mason, who decided to come back, he did not want to see Stanley's child grow up without a father, as Jade has.

    The deadline Hummel gave the FBI/Pentagon arrives, and when there is no ransom paid and more time requested, Major Baxter demands he take action. Hummel orders a rocket fired. It's headed for a full stadium at Candlestick Park, but Hummel slyly enters revised coordinates on his computer keyboard and redirects the rocket so that it falls into the ocean. The surviving officers are furious, as Washington will now believe they are weak and incompetent and hit them with everything they've got. Hummel tells them that the whole operation was a bluff that the government didn't fall for, and since he's a professional soldier, not a murderer, it's all over. He tells his men to take some hostages and leave, he will surrender and take the heat for it all. Frye and Darrow refuse. They consider themselves mercenaries working for pay, and they want their money, or to make good on the threats. A Mexican standoff ensues, and Mason and Goodspeed arrive just in time to witness its conclusion. As shots are fired, General Hummel and Major Baxter are fatally wounded. As Mason opens fire on the mutineers, forcing them to disperse, a dying Hummel tells Goodspeed that the last rocket is in the lower lighthouse.

    Goodspeed heads to the lighthouse while Mason covers him from the rooftops. As Goodspeed disarms the last rocket, Darrow corners him, menacing him with a combat knife. Goodspeed launches the now unarmed rocket, which hits Darrow squarely in chest, causing him to plummet to his death. As Goodspeed is handling the final string of green VX spheres, one of them drops on the deck. He catches it before it can shatter, but before he can safely stash it away, Frye attacks him. With the Thermite plasma-armed jets approaching, Frye overpowers Goodspeed and tries to strangle him. Out of options, Goodspeed shoves the loose sphere into the captain's mouth and hits him in the jaw, crushing the vial and releasing the contents. Captain Frye dies almost instantly, violently convulsing as his flesh melts away. The liquid also gets on Goodspeed and he immediately stumbles away and pulls the atropine antidote from his boot and injects himself in the heart with it. He is then able to grab and light two green flares, the prearranged signal that the threat is over. The flares are spotted from land, but only after one of the jet pilots has released his bombs, exploding on the rear of the island, missing all the hostages and sending Goodspeed flying into the sea.

    Mason reappears and drags the unconscious Goodspeed to shore. Paxton calls on the radio and learns from Goodspeed that all the hostages are still alive, but that Mason had been killed. That provides Mason time to escape before the FBI arrives, telling him that Womack tore up his pardon. Mason suggests that Goodspeed take his honeymoon with Carla by way of Ft. Walton, Kansas, giving him a slip of paper saying "front pew." When Paxton and Womack arrive Goodspeed tells them that Mason was "vaporized" by the Thermite plasma missile.

    The film ends with Goodspeed running from a church in Ft. Walton, Kansas, as Carla urges him to hurry and get in the car so they can get away. Goodspeed has in his hand a canister containing microfilm. He looks at the microfilm and asks Carla if she'd like to know who really shot JFK.

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